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VUHS grads showered with love

VERGENNES — The members of the Vergennes Union High School Class of 2018 this past Friday, June 15, took their final group bow and walked out into their futures.
They did so after being showered in a steamy gymnasium by confetti cannons; advice from several sources, including their peers; and, according to graduation speaker Chris Sheehan, the love of not only their families and friends, but also their teachers.
The 65 members of the Class of 2018 had developed a bond with Sheehan, now teaching elsewhere, when he taught them in middle school five years before. Even after he was a victim of downsizing at VUHS he spoke to them at their 8th-grade step-up ceremony.
Class of 2018 President Mason Charlebois introduced Sheehan and said the class decision to invite him back was almost unanimous.
Charlebois said Sheehan had always “made learning enjoyable” and showed the class the “importance of dialogue in changing the world,” and that he “continues to inspire” the graduates.
Sheehan said it was hard to give advice to the class because they didn’t need it.
Sheehan said he learned while attending the annual senior charity walk two weeks earlier that the members of the class were already ambitious and had made plans for their futures, they were not afraid to leave the state and challenge themselves, and were already committed to making a difference in the community, as evidenced by the successful walk that raised $4,500 for the John Graham Shelter.
Realizing that he was running out of advice to give, Sheehan said he simply ditched the challenge of offering a speech with memorable guidance: “Problem solved.”
Instead, he drew inspiration from an 8th-grade assembly in which teachers each addressed the class.
“My turn came, and I got up, and I said, ‘We love you guys,’” Sheehan (pictured, left) said. “It’s something you don’t hear from teachers very often. But I’ve thought about that moment a lot as I’ve gone through my teaching career, this idea of loving students. I’ve realized it’s totally true. Teachers love their students.”
He explained how that love is demonstrated.
“Love isn’t some abstract idea. It isn’t something in the air. It’s moments,” Sheehan said, citing teachers helping students with a math problem to prepare for a test, or working to revise papers repeatedly, or even letting them nap in a class if they really need it. “That’s all love, all of these moments.”
Then he drew the loudest cheers of the night.
“I just want to take a moment, right now here in this gym, with all of these people, to just experience this love together. So if you love somebody in this gym, and you love one of these graduates up here, I want to hear you make some noise right now,” he said, adding after sustained applause and shouting, “That’s that I’m talking about. Do you guys feel that? There’s so much love for you in the gym right now. We want you to have amazing futures.”
Certainly, members of the class have already distinguished themselves in the classroom, on the stage, in the school band or choir, in community service, and in gymnasiums, on playing fields and at track meets.
Eleven earned GPAs of 93 or higher, 15 belong to the National Honor Society, seven to the National Technical Honor Society, and two to the National Arts Honor Society. There was overlap: Two seniors, Norah Deming and Lillian Clark, earned all four of those distinctions.
Valedictorian Ally Atkins said in her address she was sure the members of the class would continue to do great — and different — things.
“The mark we leave here in this world can be left in a variety of ways and does not need to follow traditional paths, whether it is a viral video, being successful in our careers, continuing our education, traveling; whatever it is, the impacts and inspiration we have on others is what should truly be remembered and cherished, not necessarily the materialistic wealth gained,” Atkins said.
And she also said the class has already made a mark in its high school years, citing, for example, the charity walk.
“Raising money for the John Graham Shelter best exemplifies how we, as ordinary people, are already taking extraordinary measures, motivating ourselves to make a difference in our community, and it’s only the beginning,” Atkins said.
In his welcoming address, Salutatorian Lance Bergmans looked back on the positives — and some of the negatives.
“We have encountered many experiences, accomplished things, learned, succeeded, made unforgettable memories, formed everlasting friendships, and grown on both an individual and class level,” Bergmans said. “Now don’t get me wrong, high school hasn’t been all fun and games. The bright points have been accompanied by many bumps in the road, things that you don’t want to happen but do anyways. We have lost, failed and made countless mistakes, yet we have ultimately bettered ourselves based on these stumbles.”
Of course, no graduation would be complete without a little advice, and outgoing Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning stepped to the plate.
First, Canning joined the student speakers in thanking families, teachers, support staff and administrators for the “loving support” they had given the class of 2018, and she said how proud she and all of those people were of the graduates.
Canning, who also said “Addison Northwest School District will always have a very special place in my heart,” offered advice she said was based on a graduation speech given by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Planning cannot prepare you for the twists and turns that are coming your way … Don’t be so focused on your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected,” Canning said, adding the graduates should “figure out who you are and what is important in your life,” and “be willing to fight for what you believe in.”
And Megan Tarte, who earned third honors in the class, had the job of delivering the last speech, the annual challenge to the class of 2019 — that task, by its nature, also means offering advice. She told the class to “make the most of senior year,” calling it “a time to act” and seize opportunities.
“Embrace the moments with your friends, engage in your school work, be present and branch out. Try new things you never thought you would,” Tarte said. “Get involved here at VUHS and around the community, whether it be performing at Peace One Day, volunteering at the elementary school, or participating in spirit week. High school is your opportunity to live, learn, and make mistakes.”
But arguably Sheehan had the true last word, when he spoke immediately after the cheers he sparked in the packed gym.
“I want you to take the feeling that you just felt right now, all of those people making noise for you,” Sheehan said. “And I wanted you to let it launch you out of this gym into the future.”
See more photos, a full list of VUHS graduates and a profile of a couple past VUHS grads in Section C of today’s edition.
UPDATE: This story was updated after its initial posting to recognize Lillian Clark’s achievement of earning a grade point of 93 or higher and membership in the National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society and National Art Honor Society. We’re sorry for the original omission.

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