VERGENNES — The students of the Vergennes Union High School class of 2010 were not alone as they marched into the standing-room-only school gymnasium last Friday evening. The institution’s 50th graduating class was followed by more than half the members of the class of 1960 — VUHS’s first graduating class.
“There were 60 members in the class of 1960, and it is fitting that they should share the birthday milestone of 50 years this evening,” said Ann Sullivan, a former VUHS English teacher and 1960 alumna who took the floor to wish the students well.
She warned the 114 graduating students that before they knew it, they’d be observing their own 50th high school reunion — but added that before then, she was sure that they would all have many successes.
“You’ve been taught well, and you’ve taught us all very well,” she said.
2010 Valedictorian Courtney Andersen and Salutatorian Madeline Delaney also had encouraging words for their peers.
In her speech, Delaney described the dark world that she and her classmates were entering as they struck out on their separate paths after graduation, but offered a vision of the hopeful world they could create. She spoke of “this world of exteriors, flooded with violence and an unattainable beauty … where we act in high heels to lift us above the reality of dirt … where we kill for diamonds to keep us company, though we could just sleep under the stars, and it would cost less than this American dream.
“How much has changed since we knew the perspective of the crickets and ants in their grass-blade forests … and when a kiss on bruised skin would heal the world. The world needs so many kisses now,” she continued.
Delaney exhorted the class to accept their new responsibilities, and the new adventures that the world would send their way.
“We cannot let ignorance replace innocence. We are all solely responsible for ourselves … so as Tolstoy said, ‘If you want to be happy, be,’” she said. “Remember that you get from life what you give, so be spontaneous. Play outside, and get lost sometimes.”
Andersen was next to take the stage, speaking of the wide range of opportunities that her class had had — in the arts, in community service, in academics and in sports — as one of the things that made the class a unique group of people.
She spoke of her classmates’ efforts in community service as something that had brought them all together, whether it was by walking from VUHS to Porter Hospital in Middlebury to raise money for diabetes research or returning to their old elementary schools to work with students there.
After quoting a song from the musical “Wicked,” Andersen told family, friends, faculty and fellow graduates how honored she was to be one of them.
“I do believe I have been changed for the better,” she said, referring to her time at the school. “And because I knew all of you, I have been changed for the good.”
She continued her speech’s theatrical motif in her conclusion, telling her class, “May all of your successes be long-running!”
After a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” from the musical “West Side Story” by the graduation chorus, and just before the students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, Ralph Paquette stood to deliver the graduation address. The recently retired business/technology teacher delivered a list of six down-to-earth pieces of advice for the students.
“Take care of yourself,” Paquette began. “Take care of yourself physically, emotionally and financially.”
He emphasized that seeking help in any of these was not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.
“And remember, when those credit card offers come in the mail, no one loves you that much,” he quipped.
Paquette’s second piece of advice: “Believe in yourself, and give those around you a second chance.”
As part of this, he told the graduating class never to be ashamed of where they came from.
“When people ask you where you graduated from,” he said, “proudly look them in the eye and say, ‘Vergennes Union High School.’”
Third: “Thank those who deserve to be thanked.”
To put his advice into practice, he asked the graduates to stand up and give a round of applause to the taxpayers — present and not — who had allowed the school to become what it was.
“Be a good citizen,” said Paquette as his fourth piece of advice. “No matter where you live, get involved in the community, volunteer, coach a team, get to know your neighbors.”
Next, Paquette coached the students to be ethical.
“Remember, your reputation is worth far more than money,” he said. “Just ask Bernie Madoff or Tiger.”
Paquette’s last piece of advice was to keep learning.
“Once you realize that education is for you … it makes perfect sense,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense,” he finished. “Congratulations, good luck, and God bless you all.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.