Mount Abe grads get a unique send-off


Mount Abraham Union High School senior John Bent chose an iconic form of transportation for graduation on Saturday. Bent and fellow members of the Class of 2020 received their diplomas, to great fanfare, in a socially distanced drive-up ceremony that treated every senior like a rock star. Photo by Buzz Kuhns

Mount Abraham Union High School Assistant Principal Justin Bouvier congratulates a graduating senior with a “heel click” on Saturday. Even though public health guidelines called for stringent social-distancing policies, Bouvier said the graduation ceremoney was “magical.” Photo by Buzz Kuhns

After nearly 12 weeks of remote learning, Mount Abe seniors got their “rock star” on for Saturday’s graduation ceremony. Photo by Buzz Kuhns

MEMBERS OF THE Mount Abraham Union High School Class of 2020, including Ulysses Suazo, were encouraged to decorate their vehicles and bring their families for one of the most unusual graduation ceremonies the school has ever hosted. According to a staggered schedule that would ensure the observation of social-distancing protocols, seniors drove right up to the stage to receive their diplomas. Photo by Buzz Kuhns
Graduation was magical. (It) was much more emotional this year than in years past. Many students were bursting into tears as they were getting into their cars. — Assistant Principal Justin Bouvier

BRISTOL — Eighty-one days after their school building was shut down to help prevent the spread of a deadly pandemic — 81 days of remote learning, separation from their friends, canceled extracurricular activities, and anxiety over the fate of their communities and indeed the world itself — the Mount Abraham Union High School Class of 2020 made a triumphant return to campus on Saturday to participate in what will turn out to have been one of the most memorable graduation ceremonies in the school’s history.

In addition to the family and friends who accompanied them in the one vehicle they were allowed to use for the drive-up ceremony in front of the Bristol school, many seniors also brought with them a broad definition of “vehicle.”

One student loaded his family onto a trailer and pulled them through the line with a John Deere tractor. Another queued up in a Greenhaven Gardens & Nursery dump truck decorated with metallic gold balloons. A while later a pickup truck arrived towing a trailer packed with more than a dozen whooping and clapping family members. Toward the end of the morning a great yellow Bet-Cha Transit school bus festooned with red and white balloons and bursting with a celebratory ruckus ambled down the driveway. One senior arrived in a limousine; another in a vintage Jeep.

Yet another “showed up in the back of a truck on a dirt bike, revving the engine the entire time,” recalled Assistant Principal Justin Bouvier. “The student then put on a full smoke show after he graduated, as he was driving away.”

Seniors arrived according to a staggered schedule in order to maintain safe social-distancing guidelines. After checking in at the gate, they drove to the Regalia Station to receive their “Eagle Nation” face masks and their graduation programs. The path they traveled to the stage was lined with teachers, staff and community members with noisemakers, balloons and signs.

Upon arrival at the stage, which was constructed at the entrance of the school, each senior exited their vehicle, alone, and entered the graduation tent as “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the loud speakers. Instead of shaking hands, the masked seniors “clicked heels” with masked district and school officials — Bouvier, Principal Shannon Warden, Superintendent Patrick Reen, district school board chair Dawn Griswold — received their diplomas and turned their tassels.

Afterward they removed their masks and posed for a professional photographer, then proceeded to other stations to collect prizes, scholarships and pose for further photographs.

“Graduation was magical,” Bouvier said. “(It) was much more emotional this year than in years past. Many students were bursting into tears as they were getting into their cars.” So, too, were faculty and staff members, he added. “The neat piece was that it felt like an individualized graduation for each graduate.”

Warden agreed.

“Seeing each family’s reaction was incredibly powerful and moving,” she said. “My emotions kept coming in waves. The vibe was hard to articulate but it was just incredible.”

School and district officials were adamant about doing everything in their power to make this graduation ceremony as special as possible, Warden explained.

“It was imperative that these seniors’ last experiences would resonate with them forever,” she said.

And it worked.

“Graduation was perfect,” said Kai Correll, who received his diploma Saturday. “Teachers and staff worked really hard to make sure the event felt special and it definitely showed. The whole ceremony was just beautiful.”

Fellow grad Mae Peterson was also impressed.

“I was feeling disappointed about not being able to celebrate finishing four years of really hard work, but graduation gave us a space to do that,” she said. “The administration and class council did an amazing job of decorating and creating a ceremony that felt almost real. They did a great job with the circumstances.”

A few days before graduation, the class’ elected speakers, Carly Counter and Maizy Shepard, analyzed their class experiences by the numbers in a special video message broadcast by Burlington TV station WCAX:

“The Class of 2020: Over one thousand days together spent at 220 Airport Drive.” 

• 116 yearbook pages.

• 92 students with 92 different stories.

• Zoom meetings 24/7.

• 15 sports.

• 10 advisories.

• Suddenly six feet apart.

• Five towns bridged together by worn roads.

• No two of us alike.

• We are one class connected by one school.

Saturday’s ceremony was live-streamed by Northeast Addison Television. An edited video version — which includes a pre-recorded welcome from senior Justice Green, speeches by Counter and Shepard, a keynote speech by retiring teacher Tom Learmonth, and additional remarks from Warden and Reen — is available at neatbristol.com. 

Because Saturday’s event was stitched together piece by piece, vehicle by vehicle, graduate by graduate, it’s tempting, when considering the videos and other media that emerged from it, to invoke the well-worn colloquialism “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” which from so many angles seems to ring true.

From there it requires only one tiny hyperbolic leap — considering all the ways in which the Mount Abe Class of 2020 has gone “next level” this year — to wonder if on Saturday the whole was greater than even ... the whole.

Or, as Warden put it, with her characteristic clarity and concision:

“We pulled off the impossible.”

Look for a special Addison County high school graduation pullout in next Thursday’s edition.

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