Mount Abe graduation celebrates togetherness, resilience

Photo by Buzz Kuhns

BRISTOL — “It is what it is” has grown into a lazy catch phrase used to describe a crummy situation over which one has little or no control.

Except when it’s used by members of the Mount Abraham Union High School Class of 2021, who turned “it is what it is” into not only their class motto, but made it a proud exclamation of how they wouldn’t allow the COVID-19 pandemic to divide and conquer them during a tumultuous year.

“Over the past year, we have learned and adapted to love and support each other while six feet apart,” Class of 2021 student speaker and graduate Liz Porter said in both literally and metaphorically capturing the ironic “together, but apart” school climate during COVID-19.

At Saturday’s outdoor graduation, she exhorted her classmates to cling to that principle of togetherness as they make their own ways into the world.

 “As we near the light at the end of the tunnel that’s fast approaching, I cannot stress enough how important it will be to continue to show love and support for others, but also ourselves.”

There was indeed something different about the language and aura of graduation day 2021, as compared to years past:

•  Speeches strewn with words like “dramatic,” “pandemic,” “selfless,” “unpredictable” and “hybrid.”

•  An even deeper appreciation for a picture-perfect day and the freedom to associate.

•  Even the traditional commencement attire featured a new wrinkle — a mask, emblematic of the healthcare gauntlet they had all traversed.

Together, but separated.

Porter left her classmates with three lessons she’d learned at Mount Abe.

“First, have courage. Take the steps to achieve your goals but have the courage to know it’s OK to fall as long as you get back up,” she said. “Secondly, have commitment. I believe that you will truly only commit and give your all to something you truly enjoy… So go adventuring, own a bakery, start a non-profit organization, become a billionaire and give it all away. Just do something that makes you happy.

“Lastly,” she concluded, “I’ve learned that life’s unpredictable. I think we can all see this to be true. However many of us forget this at some point in our lives. So embrace the unpredictability of our world. Every single challenge we face in our lives, whatever it may be, can only teach you your capabilities, and make you stronger and more resilient in the future.”

Principal Shannon Warden told the assembled masses how proud she was about the heart that the Class of 2021 had exhibited during such trying times. And she stressed the students’ families and friends played a vital role in sustaining the graduates with constant and unconditional love and support.

“I believe that our students have been much more resilient than others because we teach and practice heart,” she said. “We are honest, engaged, appropriate, responsible and timely in all that we do. These values transcend all classes, programs, spaces and learning that occur at Mount Abe. Our students are able to embody heart because of all of you sitting here with us today.”

Warden paused twice during her speech to have each audience member do two things: Use their fingers to form the shape of a heart, and text a message of gratitude to someone.

Support and love helped Mount Abe students do remarkable things in spite of the coronavirus hurdles they’d faced.

“We’ve heard over and over from state and national leaders that our kids are not OK,” Warden said. “But inside the walls of Mount Abraham, in little ol’ Bristol, Vt., a place fondly referred to as Eagle Nation, a place where the glass is half full, a place where we operate with a growth mindset instead of a deficit mindset, our students have persevered, problem-solved, come together, leaned on each other, worked on the front line of a global pandemic, found a school and work balance, sought opportunity wherever it existed, learned new ways to learn, adapted — sometimes what felt like daily — and practiced patience, kindness, and flexibility.”

This year’s seniors selected Mount Abe science educator Dana DeWitt to deliver the faculty address.

She noted how she’d personally taught most of this year’s graduates throughout secondary school, allowing her to watch them grow into young adults.

“When I think of you, I see your smiling, accepting, always-inclusive faces,” she told the new graduates. “Though sometimes you squabbled like siblings, you invariably made up. You always were a family. And you included me in that family.”

DeWitt thanked the students for supporting her move four years ago from middle school to high school teaching.

“I wasn’t sure if I would be a good fit, but you wholeheartedly supported me and said, ‘You can do it! We’ll be with you!’” she recalled.

“You made all the difference in the world; so we made the move together.”


DeWitt said the class of 2021 has proved itself to be incredibly supportive — of faculty and each other. Just as members of the class encouraged her to finish a challenging climbing wall course, so too did they cheer each other on to victory in varied competitions that yielded six state championships.

“You support one another and congratulate each other in whatever each of you tries,” she said. “Even if you’re not in the same friend group, you encourage each other. You attend concerts, plays, and sporting events that you aren’t part of just to be supportive.”

And they did it during a pandemic year, when no one would have blamed them for hunkering down.

“You’ve missed so much,” she noted. “You never got to sit in the senior section at assemblies. Some of you lost some whole seasons of sports and performance opportunities that can’t be made up. You’ve missed out on well-deserved awards and honors. You never got to walk through the halls as seniors. Most of all, you lost being able to see each other at school as a whole class. You have been keenly aware of what you have missed, but I have never heard you feel sorry for yourselves. Instead, you spoke of recognizing that there were others worse off than you.”

Rather than feeling sorry for themselves, this year’s seniors adjusted their expectations and got on with academics and life in general, according to DeWitt.

“You were not going to be stopped. You will never be stopped,” she said. “You will keep being yourselves, navigating the world, and being an example for us all. You taught this school what really matters: people, relationships, loving freely, and being yourself. But the greatest legacies you will leave Mount Abraham are your genuine kindness and your total acceptance of others. You have gone beyond mere tolerance of your peers and become a family. You have shown that we, too, at Mount Abe are a family. We can accept each other for all our differences. We go forward to a better place because of your presence here, and you will go make your marks and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. You may each have your own path, but you walk it side by side.”

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