BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School on Saturday sent 143 freshly minted graduates into the world with good wishes wrapped in prose, song and the letter “P.”
“Prepare yourself for a panoramic, pragmatic, participatory promenade through powerful, profound prose that may seem pedantic, and please refrain from propelling projectiles until the pronounced peroration point prevails,” graduation speaker Scott Beckwith, an MAUHS social studies teacher, urged the seniors in an alliterative tongue twister.
Beckwith continued the “P” theme with some values he exhorted the young graduates to embrace as they live their lives. He underscored purpose; eliminating poverty; communicating with people; and working toward peace as noble pursuits.
“Fill your souls with purpose, and, if you lose your way, integrity is defined in the dictionary, read the definition if you need a powerful reset,” Beckwith told the assembled masses, who rewarded him with a standing ovation.
He noted that he and his partner spent several months in Europe earlier this year for business and travel. Those travels, Beckwith said, opened his eyes wider to how children and poor people are treated in other societies. He recalled seeing gypsies teach their children to dig through dumpsters and beg from tourists.
“I was appalled to hear a tour guide tell her tour group, ‘If gypsies get in your way, just kick them,’” Beckwith said.
He added that an education did not appear to be as valued in Spain as it is in other countries.
“I was heartbroken to hear that teachers in elementary schools throughout Spain struggle to convince parents that subjecting their children to an education will be beneficial to their child’s future,” Beckwith said.
He urged the graduates to help put an end to poverty and to value education for the rest of their lives.
“I look at all of you sitting here today, and I am thankful that here in Vermont and in the United States we offer free public education to every child and we make attendance compulsory,” Beckwith said.
He encouraged the graduates to share their experiences and knowledge with others — even if they think their message might not be well received.
Beckwith cited himself as a case in point. He told the crowd that his late father was an ardent opponent of Vermont’s civil unions legislation that gave same-sex couples many of the same rights as heterosexual married couples. He helped to organize rallies in Southern Vermont for the group Take Back Vermont.
While Beckwith and his dad were on opposite sides of that polarizing issue, they never stopped talking to each other.
“Every Tuesday, up to the week he died, at 8 p.m., my phone would ring and it was my father checking in on me,” Beckwith recalled, his voice showing great emotion. “We would recap the week’s events, and we would share our individual lives with each other with honesty.
“The point is, people differ in their convictions, but we must continue to talk.”
Class of 2012 Valedictorian Kenny Micklas put his message to rhyme. And his message was one of praise for the educational opportunities at Mount Abe and the experiences he enjoyed during his high school career. Micklas, who is headed to Brown University this fall, delivered the following observations:
Mt. Abe is really a place where anyone can thrive.
With almost anyone’s passion, this school will jive.
You can learn to be a firefighter,
Or take AP English and become a skilled writer,
You can learn how to build an uber-cheap yacht,
Or study philosophy and find yourself lost in thought.
Someday some of us will be lawyers
Or highly successful employers.
We will be world famous musicians
And learn how to fix transmissions.
We have gained college admission
And after paying four years of tuition,
We will get to transition
Into the real world, where we will be on a mission
To bring our world domination plans to fruition.
Of all of our years, high school may be the most formative.
In this regard, it is surely superlative,
Which is why it is so important that we remember all we have learned
So 20 years from now, when we will have returned
For a class reunion, we can honestly say
That at the end of the day,
We made use of all the knowledge,
Not only academic, but all the other things we learn but forget to acknowledge,
Like how to work as a cohesive team,
How to follow an unlikely dream,
How to navigate complex social scenes,
And what true friendship really means.
Salutatorian Sarah Stratton also spoke about a fulfilling experience at Mount Abe, one that got even better once she became less introverted.
“I came in 10th grade, having recently graduated from a tiny, hippy school up in the mountains of Ripton. My class there had eight students in it, and to suddenly watch that number grow to 150 was overwhelming,” Stratton said. “I think I spent the first week in a state of perpetual shock at just how loud everything was.”
Stratton acknowledged spending her first year at Mount Abe “in the shadows.”
“I spoke only when spoken to,” she said. “I never raised my voice or laughed any louder than the people around me. If I had no one to sit with at lunch, I would go early to my next class and eat alone over my homework. I was a loner, a shy, nerdy ginger whose only goal was to stay out of the spotlight.”
Fast-forward two years. Stratton said she remains “a nerdy ginger,” but someone who feels more a part of the school and its community.
“I don’t have to hide anymore,” she said. “I eat lunch every day with my best friends in the world. I have a tendency to laugh far too loudly and far more often than is actually socially acceptable. Half the time, my AP Bio class probably wishes I would just shut up. It may have taken me two years, but I’m finally out of my shell, and all it took was the courage to become the person I wanted to be instead of the person who was safe.”
She urged her classmates to take a similar tack in life.
“We can do anything, we can have whatever life we want, but only if we have the strength to reach out and grab it,” said Stratton, now bound for Oberlin College. “Don’t be me in 10th grade. Trust me; nobody wants to be that pathetic. Take chances — there’s no day but today.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]