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Graduation: Vergennes grads form a cohesive whole

WITH DIPLOMA IN hand, Bea Eckels gets a big congratulations from an admirer as she walks with fellow VUHS grads out of their commencement ceremony on June 9. She is headed off to Boston and Simmons University at the end of the summer.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School Class of 2023 included people who were different in many ways. But the young women and young men who marched across the stage at the June 9 graduation found ways to form a cohesive whole. 

Part of that was their shared experiences in the pandemic, but each individual had their own story to tell.

Bee Eckels and Peyton Paquette were part of the diverse community who shared their stories.

BEE ECKELS

For Eckels, high school was a time of new experiences. She started dancing in 9th grade when she participated in the school musical. In the last four years she has learned tap and jazz and in the last two, ballet. 

“It was fun because I hadn’t grown up doing dance,” she shared.  

She was also a member of the National Honors Society during her time in high school and in her final year she took on the position of vice president. She was also a member of the VUHS Student Senate, a role in which she played a part in the planning of school events like prom, the senior walkathon, project grad (an event that happens the night after graduation as a last hurrah for the graduating class), etc.

Eckels said she got a lot out of her high school experience.

“I’ve always been someone who’s liked school,” she said. “I would describe it as fun. The classes I took were fun. I got classes I wanted every year with teachers I liked. I wish there were more AP classes but Vergennes is a small school so I understand how that’s not always possible. There’s something for everyone. I think Vergennes does a good job at keeping everyone engaged.”

She particularly enjoyed her humanities classes like AP Literature, as she is hoping to study English at Boston’s Simmons University, where she is heading in the fall. 

“I really enjoyed AP Lit, which I was really scared of going into,” Eckels recalled. “Mr. Thomas is a really good English teacher. We did a lot of poetry analysis, which I never really did before. He taught us how to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in a way that was really hilarious.”

Outside of school Eckels likes to read and cross country ski with her family. But her absolute favorite thing to do, both inside and outside of school is swimming. One of the things she is most looking forward to as she enters the next chapter of her life is joining Simmons University’s swim team. 

PEYTON PAQUETTE

For Paquette, high school was also a time of expanding horizons, but in a different direction. He was very involved in his school community at VUHS. He played baseball every year as a pitcher and an outfielder, he was a member of the National Honors Society, and a member of the student government. Student government along with some college courses he took in world history and political science is what piqued Paquette’s interest in studying Political Science at the University of Vermont in the fall. 

Paquette said the interest that was most important and integral to his high school experience was music. He was a part of both the select and regular choir all four years, participated in the school musical every year except for his sophomore year due to COVID-19. He learned to play the guitar and piano, and he even took vocal lessons for a couple of years. 

Music wasn’t just a hobby for him, it became a passion during high school especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

“Before high school I didn’t really have a passion for music,” he said. “But during that time I could always rely on my music to push me through.” 

One of the most valuable lessons Paquette has taken away from high school is the importance of acceptance.

“Everyone has their own opinions of you,” he said. “Everyone will think different things, but what really matters is being able to accept yourself for who you really are. My last high school assignment I wrote was on acceptance, being able to accept yourself and accept things the way they are.”

Both newly minted VUHS grads shared the ways in which the pandemic affected their school experience. For Eckels, the pandemic served as an impediment to her learning. She found it hard to feel supported in the wake of Zoom school. 

Paquette said what he cultivated in the pandemic was his ability to maintain friendships in the face of such uncertainty.

“You know it was a really conflicting time with COVID starting my freshman year through sophomore year,” he said. “It was hard adjusting to that schedule and being away from my friends. Especially sophomore year when they divided the school into two cohorts and all my friends were in a different cohort.”

However, both Eckels and Paquette along with the rest of the VUHS community came out the other end of it, with classes back to normal operation — mostly — by the middle of the class of 2023’s  junior year. Despite the disconnect the two graduates faced during the early days of their high school experience, when asked about their class, the moments they both hold onto the most are the ones that they felt most connected to their school community.

“We all got along pretty well I think,” Eckels said. “I noticed especially over this year as we got closer to graduation, people in other groups got nicer to other people. People in the halls that I never spoke to before would say, ‘Hi, Bee.’ That was really cool to watch, how we came together.”

Paquette had his own way of explaining the way his class came together.

“I would say we’re a very diverse class when it comes to personality and interest,” he said. “Overall our class has a sense of general respect for one another. We all have a shared experience. Sometimes there are some outliers who will be against certain things and certain people. And our class has always stood up to that and stayed strong in face of adversity. Our class has always been very determined.” 

He believes that their class has grown to become more accepting of one another over the years.  

With their high school career coming to a close, Eckels and Paquette are both heading off to the next phase of their lives looking forward to the new experiences that await them at their respective universities in the fall.

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