Adversity and success are themes at VUHS graduation

VERGENNES — This past Friday was a beautiful evening for a graduation at Vergennes Union High School. Overhead, the light blue sky was streaked with wispy little white clouds. As the families of the graduates made their way from their parked cars to Commodore Thomas Macdonough Gymnasium, long rays of sunlight greeted them, brilliantly illuminating the green of the trees and grass and the reddish dirt of the baseball field.
Yet, there were precious few moments to admire this picturesque scene. Inside, the ceremonies were about to begin.
Generations of family and community members rose from their seats as the graduating class of 2016 began to slowly file into the gym. In a careful, practiced formation they made their way to the front of the room, where chairs on raised platforms waited for them.
After graduating seniors Emma Gardner and Kyra Duggento led the singing of the national anthem, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning wished the 80 assembled VUHS seniors well with a quote from Dr. Seuss.
“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in a direction that you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know. You are the guide that will decide where to go,” Canning said.
Salutatorian Xavier Provencher delivered the welcoming address, leading with a quip about growing older.
“We spent a good six years together,” said Provencher, “and this class has changed drastically since our first day in middle school. We’re all a little taller than we were, and I guess a little more mature.”
Provencher went on to highlight the charitable contributions of his fellow graduates, including the fall walk-a-thon, which raised over $9,000 for the prevention of adolescent depression and suicide.
Next, Gardner performed a skillful rendition of the Bob Dylan song “Farewell Angelina” with slightly altered lyrics, lending it greater relevance to the occasion.
Valedictorian Joshua Newton’s address touched on themes of adversity.
“No matter what the source,” he said, “whether it is from school, family, work, sports, or other matters, adversity is a necessary ingredient for success.
“Whether you are going into the military, entering the workforce, or continuing your education in college, you have the capacity to be successful,” Newton continued. “However, that success will only come through adversity and hard work. So do not let adversity be a sign of defeat. Instead, make it into a sign of coming success.”
The much anticipated graduation address was delivered by Michael Thomas, English teacher and chair of the English department at VUHS. Thomas used the address to reflect on the meaning of ceremonies like high school graduation in our communities. He reminisced about his time spent on a very special stone bench during his graduate studies, a bench engraved with a short poem that he discovered in a time of mourning.
The poem read: “To those who shall sit here mourning, / To those who shall sit here rejoicing, / Sympathy and greetings; / So have we done in our time.”
“I can think of no purer expression of the human spirit than this imaginative reaching across distance and time,” said Thomas, “not just to strangers but to people who weren’t even born, simply to say: ‘We know. We felt that way too.’
“That is why we gather together in ceremonies such as this as a community, year after year for generations,” continued Thomas. “Not just to celebrate, but also to reaffirm that vital human connection. To share ourselves with each other. To support each other.”
After the diplomas were presented to the graduates, Kyra Duggento — graduating with Third Honors — delivered a Harry Potter-themed challenge to next year’s graduating class.
“You all have so much potential,” Duggento said, delivering the final words of her challenge. “As a student who owes a lot to the love and support she received from many of her classmates, I challenge every student of the class of 2017 to help each classmate to reach their full potential.
“Enjoy this last year,” she continued. “I wish you all the best in your future decisions. All I ask is that you remember this: All of the spells you cast — or words you say, if you really want to be literal — have an impact. Make a good impression on this school and on each other.”
Principal Stephanie Taylor then reminded the students that this was the moment many had been waiting 13 years to experience. And she said:
 “Seniors, please slide your tassels to the left side.”
Smiles spread across the faces of the seated graduates as they followed her instructions, the audience cheering and applauding thunderously.
“It’s my great pleasure to present to you the graduates of the class of 2016,” said Taylor, her voice perceptibly shaking with emotion. Blue and white balloons spilled down from above.

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