VUHS seniors ride off into their future

ONE OF THE VUHS morning meeting groups of seniors sends their mortarboards flying on Friday evening, June 12, after VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor announced they have earned their degrees.

VERGENNES — It wasn’t a typical graduation evening for the Vergennes Union High School Class of 2020. 
But then what has been typical over the past four months for the class’ 68 seniors, months filled with distance learning and isolation and uncertainty?
Friday evening’s festivities saw a parade through Vergennes organized by parents and community members that followed a socially distanced ceremony held in front of the school. 
The ceremony saw seniors grouped by the dozen — they were sorted by their morning meeting home rooms. The stars of the show were driven up to a stage at the back of the VUHS traffic circle by friends or family members, many in cars and pickups decked out with signs honoring them. 
One at a time as Class President Emily Rooney read their names — and as VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Sheila Soule offered touchless COVID-19 congratulations — the seniors picked up their diplomas from a box.  
Then, holding their diploma, the students stepped to an X marked at the front of the stage for their moments in the sun, the obligatory photo op for which each could briefly remove the obligatory mask in front of raised phones and cameras. 
Then came the exits stage right to wait for Taylor to tell the assembled group to shift their tassels from right to left and pronounce them graduates. And then finally came the toss of their hats in the air to more cheers and shutter clicks.
Then each group of seniors moved back to their vehicles and headed off to the parade assembly site on North Main Street, and the next group of vehicles and their valuable cargo moved in, a process repeated a half-dozen times.

No, it was anything but typical, but still there were smiles and laughter and tears, even if the unrehearsed, first-of-its-kind event received mixed reviews. 
Class of 2020 Vice President Sophie Hatch in an email called the ceremony “a little unorganized and rushed,” saying she and others would have liked a little more time onstage for their photos. She was also not happy that many attendees did not wear masks. 
On the other hand, she and others appreciated the “good intentions” of the administration to give students a chance to walk alone across the stage and gather as a morning meeting afterward for the tassel switch and cap toss.
“This was one nice moment as a group,” Hatch said. 
Hatch’s welcoming address and Valedictorian Kai William’s speech were prerecorded. Their remarks will be included along with the video of the ceremony that will be given to each senior, along with photos of all the class members taken on the stage. 
Hatch in hers thanked “every parent, teacher, friend, and community member that has helped the Class of 2020 grow into who we are today.”  
Hatch said the class could handle whatever lies ahead:
“Although our last few months of high school were not what we were hoping for, we grew strong together as a class. If we can tackle all the challenges that have been thrown at us throughout high school, the world better be ready because we can accomplish anything we put our minds to.”
Williams said the Class of 2020 should put its mind to accomplishing change. He wrote the world stands in a metaphorical “early March” in which a number of threats require action, such as “global warming, the neglect of rural areas, systemic oppression, underemployment, the list goes on.”  
He said his class must act: “It’s a well-worn line that the graduating class will change the world, but now it isn’t a cliché. It’s a necessity.”
Williams offered hope: “I see in our own community those sparks of change. I see students sleeping out for the Graham Shelter, others giving hundreds of hours to help the elderly, and teachers inspiring us to love learning. Not all of these sparks will catch, but those that do will drive us toward the future.”

After the last tasseled hat landed on the VUHS sidewalk came a sun-dappled parade organized by parents and community members.
Fire trucks and rescue vehicles and police cruisers escorted sedans, convertibles, flatbed trucks, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum boats and pickups along almost the entire length of Main Street and down almost a dozen side streets. 
All were lined with friends and family and residents celebrating and showering cheers and applause and love on the seniors.
Class member Addie Hatch appreciated the “normalcy” the earlier ceremony brought back, especially being able to toss her cap with her morning meeting friends. But the parade was something special, she said. 
“The best part of the whole night was definitely the parade. It felt so good driving down the roads of Vergennes seeing all of the people lined up to cheer us on. It was heartwarming and filled a place in my heart that was missing because I didn’t have a normal senior year,” Brooks said. “The greater Vergennes community has showed me yet again how amazing they are.”
So in the end the seniors of the VUHS Class of 2020, who had lost so much of what they were looking forward to at the close of their high school years, got something other classes don’t get. 
“I think the parade was the most fun and meaningful aspect of the 2020 graduation celebrations,” Hatch said, “and it will be something I remember forever.”
See videos of a morning meeting cap toss and the parade on the Independent Facebook page.

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