MUHS grads: Work hard, speak up and take action

MIDDLEBURY — A gentle and welcome breeze made its way through the Memorial Sports Center as the 133 members of the Middlebury Union High School class of 2017 officially received their high school diplomas on Saturday, June 10.
The commencement ceremony began with opening remarks from Principal William Lawson, who asked students to reflect on the paths they each took to reach that moment. He also drew attention to their many talents and achievements, citing students who had played with national concert bands, participated in the senior play, won athletic championships, and produced documentaries. When he noted that 16 members of the graduating class were first-generation college students, the rink erupted in applause.
Lawson reminded students of the highly complex and interconnected world they were about to enter, where they will be exposed to different points of view. He urged them to listen, question and engage those with whom they disagree in a civil and inquiring way.
He encouraged the young adults to find ways to be complete in their lives.
“Don’t settle for that which is easiest. Work hard, work with people you like and respect, form lasting friendships, listen and laugh, volunteer so as to enrich your community, while appreciating your own strengths and weaknesses, as you make the best of your time in this world,” he said.
This year’s class featured one valedictorian and three salutatorians. Charlotte Keathley of Cornwall graduated with the school’s top honor. Salutatorians were Ronan Howlett of Cornwall, and Meigan Clark and Jakub Kraus of Middlebury.
Keathley began her speech by reflecting on a piece of advice she received the summer before her first year of high school: Don’t worry about what others may think of you, everyone else is far too busy worrying about themselves to care or notice.
She said she believes this common assumption to be wrong. High schoolers care deeply, she said, but they hardly ever share that feeling with one another. She noted how she has come to recognize the distinct ways in which her classmates may shift their hair, roll a pencil between their fingers, or walk down the hallway.
“Of course, we’ve all had our moments of being consumed by our own lives and worries, but even then, we can still recognize our friends and classmates just from the backs of their heads, spotted while passing between classes. Even if we don’t say a word about it,” she said.
Noting that she herself tended to be quiet in the classroom, Keathley urged her classmates, even on this day of goodbyes, to never stop saying hello:
“So, speak. Because I didn’t until now. Speak no matter the volume or cadence, no matter the language you speak. A lot of genuine good, genuine care, genuine genius has happened in the last four years. I don’t think it deserves to go unspoken.”
Keathley reminded those in attendance, as they look towards the future, to never forget the past and bond they share as graduates of MUHS.
“I was told not to worry too much about high school, because after you graduate, it gets better. And I do hope that it gets better, because, like most people, I like better. And I wish ‘better’ for all of you,” she said. “But still, even though I’ve not always been happy here, I don’t really need it to get better. This has all been enough. It’s been more than I ever could’ve asked for. My cup has overflowed here. I hope this has been enough for you.”
Howlett used his time to discuss the newfound independence graduates will have after finishing high school.
“We all should make use of this increased freedom, not necessarily to save the world, although it’s great if you attempt that, but to do something which is meaningful to you personally, whatever that might be,” he said.
In her remarks, Meigan Clark examined the “real-world” that graduates officially entered on Saturday, noting the need to be active in addressing problems the planet faces.
“Even if we must start at the community or the personal level, it is critical that we take real action for the causes that matter to us, whatever they might be,” she said.
Finally, Jakub Kraus urged his classmates to reflect on their own thoughts and experiences when contemplating life’s many decisions.
“Our best lives are our examined lives,” he said. “If we ask ourselves the right questions, we’ll know what we personally define as success, and thus what decisions we need to make to get what we want.”
After all four students delivered their remarks, Lawson presented the school’s departmental awards. Amalia Herren-Large, Brooke Rubright, Kraus and Keathley won the awards in English, fine arts, social studies and world languages, respectively. Dace Eaton won the departmental awards in both mathematics and science.
Addison Central Superintendent Peter Burrows then addressed the graduates, reminding them of the many ways that one can define success.
“You get to make your own construct of success, but it takes a commitment to knowing yourself, and inquiring into how you conceive your success, to build towards greater clarity and direction in your life,” he said.
 Burrows then announced the recipients of over $100,000 in 30 named scholarships donated by local persons and organizations. Some scholarships were awarded to students based on their extracurricular activities, like volunteer work. Others were given to students who plan to attend nursing school or pursue a career in the field of education.
After the MUHS Choral Ensemble sang “For Good” from the musical “Wicked,” the students were presented their diplomas.
As family and friends took pictures, clapped and cheered, one-by-one members of the class of 2017 walked across the stage, shook the hand of School Board Chair Peter Conlon, and hurried back to their seats, finally holding that piece of paper it took over a decade to earn.

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