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Seniors unite on the road — at last

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School seniors Ema Gernander, left, Bekah Duprey and Jordan Kimball lead some of their classmates up Comfort Hill Monday during a Class of 2021 fundraising walk that not only gathered money for two charities but gave the class a chance to be together after a year of social distancing. Independent photo/Steve James

Some of the people I hadn’t seen in many months. It was really nice to really come back and have that community we haven’t had so long in that pandemic. The physical isolation is so hard on students.
— Xander DeBlois

VERGENNES — It came half a year after originally scheduled, but the Vergennes Union High School Class of 2021 upheld a cherished tradition on Monday — its annual senior fundraising walkathon and visit to their former elementary school.

Blessed with sunshine and temperatures in the 60s and 70s, more than 60 of the class’s 103 members walked from VUHS to Ferrisburgh Central and Vergennes Union Elementary schools and back. The walk and their fundraising efforts raised close to $5,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Vermont Food Bank.

The seniors voted for those charities this past fall, and the class fundraising efforts have been split in proportion to the seniors’ vote, according to Class of 2021 President Xander DeBlois and Vice President Jordan Kimball

“We thought it would be important to support both of those causes,” DeBlois said.

Direct donors can choose between Class of 2021 GoFundMe pages devoted to each charity. As of Tuesday morning, the VUHS Class of 2021 Alzheimer’s Association GoFundMe page donations had totaled about $3,450, while the Vermont Food Bank’s page had crested to $1,100. Donations will be accepted through the end of the school year.

The class had originally planned to walk this past fall, but the worsening COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to those plans.

But this spring, with students recently returned to fulltime education, more than 75% of Vermonters having received at least one COVID vaccination dose, and COVID infections declining, school administrators green-lighted the annual walkathon.

That decision delighted the students, said DeBlois and Kimball. On Tuesday morning they described the event and their class’s collective feelings about it.

“I had an absolute blast, and I had some feedback from my (track) teammates last night. They all loved what was happening,” said DeBlois, who lives in Ferrisburgh. “I think it was a great way for us to come together as a class.” 

Kimball acknowledged the class had been disappointed by the fall cancellation. But she said it was perhaps for the best that seniors got to share the moment this spring after a school year that saw them divided into cohorts, coming into school just two days a week. 

“To do it as a spring thing I think was really beneficial for us, especially after our class has gone through so much this year,” said Kimball, who lives in Vergennes. “Just having something at the end of the year to bring us all together and see all the people we haven’t seen all year, it was really nice.”

On Monday, starting at about 10 a.m., the seniors walked along Monkton Road and Main Street before turning right onto Macdonough Drive and Comfort Hill and heading toward Ferrisburgh, stopping at Comfort Hill Kennel for pizza. From there, they took back roads to the town’s elementary school, where they played kickball, soccer and Frisbee with 6th-graders.

They took the same route back, stopping again at the kennel, this time for ice cream. At VUES they made a beeline for the nearby city pool, and about a third of the group took a fully clothed plunge after getting permission from VUES Physical Education Teacher Robyn Newton, who was wrapping up a class there.

Kimball said organizing the event during the pandemic was stressful, but it also proved to be worth the effort.

“Everybody ended up having a really good time. We ended up jumping in the pool at the end of it in our clothes, which was so fun,” Kimball said. “I didn’t hear one bad thing about it. You could just be with everyone. And playing games with the sixth-graders. I didn’t even know we were going to do that. It just worked out that way. It was perfect.”

CHALLENGING YEAR

She and DeBlois discussed the challenges this school year posed. They pointed out that even within their cohorts, contact with friends was limited. Lunches were usually in classrooms, for example, limiting who students saw.

DeBlois said it was a tough, often lonely time, for which the walk provided welcome relief.

“It was really important for us to come together for us as a class. Some of the people yesterday I hadn’t seen in many months. It was really nice to really come back and have that community we haven’t had so long in that pandemic,” he said. “The physical isolation is so hard on students.”

Kimball said the five-hour walk-a-thon gave students a rare opportunity to mingle freely after all the frustrating restrictions.

“Especially if you didn’t luck out and get some of your friends in your cohort, it was really hard for those people to even want to go to school, especially when we were doing the two days in and two days out,” Kimball said. “So getting back all together felt great and so much more normal.”

Given the class won’t have a Project Graduation event, DeBlois hopes the class can recreate the day somehow before the seniors all go their separate ways.

“I’m hoping we can get something like that by the end of the school year for us to be able to just have some fun during the day, for us all to have some fun together and start saying our goodbyes,” he said. “We’re headed in all different directions in a few months.”

Those who wish to support the VUHS Class of 2021’s Alzheimer’s fundraising effort may log onto tinyurl.com/vf5k75d3.

To support the VUHS Class of 2021’s effort to fund the Vermont Food Bank may log onto tinyurl.com/3jxhhpfy.

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