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VUHS graduates close-knit Class of 2015

VERGENNES — When the 87 members of the Vergennes Union High School Class of 2015 marched from opposite sides of the VUHS gym on June 12 and met in the middle before turning toward the stage, all, for the first time in the school’s 65-year history, wore blue.
In a vote organized by the VUHS administration, the class earlier this spring voted overwhelmingly to overturn the school’s tradition of white graduation robes for girls and blue robes for boys.
Student, faculty and administration speakers alike said the sea of blue symbolized the unusual togetherness of a class that prided itself in not honoring artificial divisions among its members.
Salutatorian Paige Stolen, an accomplished track athlete as well as student, summed up that belief when she delivered the welcoming address at the graduation ceremony.
“We are a class of athletes, artists, philosophers, farmers, writers, volunteers, scholars, gamers, carpenters, musicians and leaders. Of course, many of us fall into more than one of these categories. We have thrived in a unique atmosphere where stereotypes such as band geeks and jocks are nonexistent. In fact here, the jocks actually are the band geeks,” Stolen said.
She added: “We sit here before you, all wearing the same color gown for the first time in the history of Vergennes Union High School. No more white for girls and blue for boys. The decision to alter tradition never comes easy. There was much discussion and debate before the class vote. In the end, we voted for change. We are united in Commodore blue, and the color we share is symbolic of the tightknit spirit of our class and of the positive change we have effected in our school and community.”
Several speakers pointed to not only to the robe change, which was also intended to protect members of this or future classes struggling with gender identity, but also to the class’s devotion to promoting awareness of autism issues.
In the fall, the class chose Starksboro’s Camp Common Ground, which provides services to children on the autism spectrum, as its annual cause, and raised more than $4,000 with a walk-a-thon. Class members’ interest in the issue has been sparked by class member Sebby Crowell, another successful track athlete and a varsity soccer team manager, who is on the autism spectrum and has always been an integral part of the whole.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning cited the gown discussion and vote and also the successful fundraiser in praising the “citizenship skills” that the Class of 2015 had learned in its six years together above and beyond its classroom education.
“This is a class that has had a collective impact on this school, and it has been great,” Canning said. “We are so looking forward to learning about all the ways you will have an impact in this world moving forward.”
Valedictorian Hannah Hatch touched on the same themes in her address.
“Together, we’ve done great things with our time at Vergennes. We’ve brought change to our school and our community; participating in a walk-a-thon for autism, helping out at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, and even voting to change the color of the gowns we are wearing tonight so that we are no longer separated by gender. In a move to create an accepting and safe atmosphere for everyone in this class we came together to make this change,” Hatch said.
“This decision seems to epitomize the way our class functions. We are diplomatic, accepting, and close.”
Of course, as Walden Project Director Matthew Schlein, selected by the class to deliver the graduation address, noted in his speech, no graduation ceremony is complete without advice.
His was to remember the words of Jewish sage Israel Baal Shem Tov: “The world is full of wonders and miracles, but we cover our eyes and pretend we see nothing.”
Schlein acknowledged that seeing the good and beauty in the world can be difficult when things don’t go well. But he countered by telling the story of when he learned on Jan. 1, 2013, that his home had burned to the ground — and then realizing that he and his family had tremendous friends and community backing.
“We were blessed by a great community and a great network of support,” Schlein said. “While I would never wish a house fire on anyone, it proved a great affirmation, that the most important things in life are not things.”
He concluded: “Be awake to your life. Be open to the many possibilities. Be present in every moment you find yourselves. As you sit here in these folding chairs, take a moment to let this scene in. Best of luck to you in your one and only great life adventure. May your lives be filled with many moments of deep laughter, feeling and meaning.”
Before then, Schlein also reminded the Class of 2015 to enjoy their moment in the sun by recalling words spoken at an earlier VUHS graduation.
“Over the years at VUHS I have heard many inspiring talks from many interesting people. One memory that surfaced was from former Principal Sandy Bassett. As he stood on this stage, surveying the crowd and the graduates, he earnestly remarked, ‘Isn’t this great? This is what it’s all about,’” Schlein said. “As I stand here today and think back to these words, I think this might be the best that I can offer you, a reminder that this moment really is great.”
Stephanie Praamsma, who earned third honors, spoke last and urged the Class of 2016 to follow in her class’s footprints by not giving in to traditional high school stereotypes.
“Don’t let yourself fit into that stereotype, break out of it and live as your own person,” Praamsma said. “Try taking classes that you never would have thought of taking before. Go to a club meeting that you think might be fun but haven’t tried. Volunteer somewhere new and unfamiliar. Take a trip to Walden for the day. Aim for better grades, or try out a new sport. Eat lunch with someone outside of your friend group, or mentor a young student. Try something outside of the norm.”
Earlier, Stolen probably summed up best what her class’s footprints look like.
“We will gladly get off our butts to help others and stand up for what we believe in,” Stolen said. “My graduating class includes members of volunteer fire departments, speech competition finalists, licensed nursing assistants, people who travelled to the African nation of Ghana to volunteer in schools, and even a young man who has joined the National Guard committing to serve his country and community. And that’s the kind of class spirit that truly leaves a mark.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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