VERGENNES — Last Friday, 111 Vergennes Union High School seniors marched to the podium to accept their diplomas in front of an audience packed full of family and friends.
Over the course of the ceremony, the seniors received plenty of advice and encouragement to guide them along their postgraduate paths.
Valedictorian Emily Magoon encouraged the graduates to slow down and take life one step at a time when it gets overwhelming, quoting author Anne Lamott. In an essay, Lamott wrote about her 10-year-old brother struggling to complete a paper on birds just before it was due:
“My father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Magoon said it’s not easy to find the space to slow down and relax, especially with the constant rush of technology.
“Stop looking at your iPad 27s and take in the scenery,” she told the crowd. “Right now, I see teachers who have spent countless hours working to get us here, friends who for many years have been there for us, family members who have been there for us for our whole lives, and all of those people who have supported us are gathered here, in the building that holds so many of our memories.”
Magoon moved on to tell the graduates that sometimes they wouldn’t be able to make lemonade out of lemons — she said she was not a fan of that statement, as it risks oversimplifying problems in life.
But, she said, that doesn’t mean that it’s fine to give up.
“Instead, we sometimes just have to accept the sourness that life can bring,” said Magoon.
When that happens, slowing down can provide a chance to appreciate other gifts and privileges in life,
“We have made it through the best and the worst, and the future isn’t going to be simple either, but we are here, ready to graduate,” Magoon said. “So remember: It’s OK to relax and take life day by day, word by word, lemon by lemon, and bird by bird.”
Salutatorian Megan Cousino, for her part, exhorted the class to take over the world. Not, she said, in the sense of world domination, but in “a positive, make-a-change-for-the-better way.”
“What if the class of 2012 became the spark needed to spark the fire?” she asked.
Passion and continued learning, in or out of the classroom, would help each of them on their way.
“Our life experience will give us all the tools we need to conquer any obstacles — including our changing of the world,” Cousino said. “Whether it be college, the military, tech school, or joining the workforce now, I hope we all continue to learn and grow every day.”
She wished the graduating seniors luck by quoting “We Are Young” by the band “fun.”
“I hope everyone here tonight will burn brighter than the sun in all of our future endeavors,” said Cousino.
English teacher Karl Steen also had advice and congratulations for the seniors.
“Each of these graduates has a life story, a history, a future. Each of them is an invaluable resource for our community and our country... You are priceless, and as they say up in the Kingdom, ‘Don’t let anybody tell ya different,’” he said to laughter from the crowd.
Steen encouraged the students to respect what makes each person unique.
“Genetic variation in a specific species,” he told the crowd, is what makes everyone unique: though humans share most of their genes, it is the small variations that make all the difference.
As he discussed the biological terms, he asked the students to nod their heads with understanding.
“That way,” he said, “(Science teacher) Ms. Wiger can retire happy.”
He asked seniors Alex McClellan (also a soloist in the graduation chorus) and Cara Strona to stand up, telling the crowd that the visible differences between the husky McClellan and the petite Strona were just the beginning.
“What you can’t see are the thousands of differences of character, of value, of thought that each of these human beings embody,” he said. “By cherishing the uniqueness of our individuality, we aren’t simply valuing diversity or being politically correct or sensitive to others who might be a little different from us ... Instead, by cherishing the uniqueness of our individuality, we are safeguarding exactly what nature has created to insure the continuance of life itself.”
Steen finished with a story about a student several years ago who accidentally pinned himself to the water fountain with his backpack while trying to drink.
“The backpack was full of knowledge, but it was that heavy pack of knowledge, knowledge that is common among us, that almost drowned him,” Steen said. “Knowledge is good. Books are good. But thinking is different than knowledge ... Thinking is self discovery ... It’s about trusting your ability to reason when the knowledge someone put in your backpack is getting heavy and preventing you from getting that drink from the water fountain.”
“Each and every one of you are awesome people who have achieved an awesome thing,” he said. “I wish you well and trust that you’ll put your knowledge and thinking to good use.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.