Mount Abraham graduates urged to face fears

BRISTOL — Chessley Jackman, valedictorian of the Mount Abraham Union High School class of 2019, could have advised her 111 fellow graduates to stay in their respective comfort zones, to stick with their strengths and/or to never leave the bucolic serenity of the 5-Town area.
Instead, she urged them to “do what scares you the most,” a path she believes will lead to self-discovery and success. It’s a tip she received only a few months ago from family friends, and she decided to share it.
“I wish that someone would have told me that four years ago,” Jackman told her peers and their families and friends who had assembled June 8 under a massive tent on the Mount Abe campus to witness an annual rite of passage on a picture-perfect Saturday.
“I don’t know who needs to hear it — I don’t know if anyone needs to hear it, maybe all of you are out there living your best lives as fearlessly as I’ve always wanted to,” she said. “But if you’re not, do what scares you most.”
Jackman thanked the educators, coaches, family and friends who helped her become a great student and athlete. She noted she and her colleagues were crossing a symbolic threshold into a new era in which they would be making key decisions for themselves.
“If we truly take a look, it’s all on us,” said Jackman, who will be attending the University of Notre Dame this fall. “You can’t blame your failure on others, but that means your accomplishments are also all and only yours. Hold this moment here today in your mind and be proud of yourself.”
She marveled at the many different post-graduate paths that she and her colleagues have mapped out.
“That’s something that I’ve really loved about this group is that even though we’re a small group and someone can look at us and think we’re all uniform, we are so incredibly different from one another and we all have our own thing that makes us shine,” she said. “I personally am so ecstatic to be spending four years at a big college halfway across the country, but I know some of us who are just as psyched to be taking a gap year or even jumping into a full-time job next year… I admire how each of us has a different passion and we all are able to follow our own desires. We’re not bound to one correct way. I’m so fortunate to have attended a school where there are no wrong answers about your future and it makes me so proud to be graduating here today.”
Mary Stetson, Mount Abe’s highly successful field hockey coach and former co-athletic director, was one of the people Jackman singled out for special thanks. Jackman and her classmates selected Stetson as this year’s commencement speaker.
After congratulating Mount Abe’s newly minted Division II state champion softball and girls’ lacrosse teams, Stetson urged the class of 2019 to embrace the “three R’s,” beginning with “responsible.”
“You must be able to accept the consequences for your actions whether they are good or bad,” she said. “You should take the time to understand how your behavior will affect the situation and the people around you. We need you to be honest and trustworthy. Compassion for others. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. Take time to connect personally. Don’t hide behind your texts, posts, and email. If you can’t say it to someone face to face don’t say it. Be committed to open, honest, tactful dialogue.”
SWEET TRANSITION PERFORMS at the graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Buzz Kuhns / buzzkuhnsphotography.smugmug.com
Stetson’s second “R” was “risk.”
“Strive for opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone,” she said, echoing Jackman’s exhortation. “This is hard. It is human nature to remain in that state where everything is comfortable. There is less stress and anxiety. Ask yourself this: What has ever been achieved when you remain on ‘autopilot?’ Challenge yourself to try new things, grow. It involves risk taking, becoming passionate, and maybe/probably being unsuccessful. Learning and growing does not come without some mistakes and discomfort. Don’t let the fear of failure dictate your actions.”
Stetson capped her advice with the third R: “resilience.”
“How will you bounce back?” she asked. “Recognize and continue to build skills that enable you to deal with adversity. Surround yourself with a strong community that is there to provide support and encouragement. This will give you the inner strength and courage to go out and try it all over again… Use adversity as the fuel to pursue your passion. There will be some hurdles and falls. Rebound, refuel and come back stronger than you were before.”
Salutatorian Cora Funke (pictured, left), during her address, celebrated the many educational and extra-curricular activities that built camaraderie among classmates throughout the years.
“We first walked into this intimidating brick fortress as small, scrawny, and slightly scared seventh-graders exactly 2,112 days ago,” she joked.
Those wispy, frightened children would spend the next six years together, “struggling through the infamous American Studies and AP classes,” but also bonding through musicals, plays, concerts, poetry readings, sporting events, field trips, social and environmental causes, and community service, according to Funke.
“Looking back, the underlying thread connecting all of these memories into something so significant has been Mount Abe’s tight-knit community,” she said. “We are a small enough school that forging meaningful relationships with a wide range of people is not only possible, but it’s inevitable.”
Quality of life and close relationships helped compensate for some of the school building’s shortcomings, Funke said.
“We may not have the fanciest school or the most resources, but we are loved and the people around us make sure we know it, and most importantly, that we feel it,” Funke said. “This is what makes us who we are, and even as we move on from Mount Abe, carry this with you.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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