By Jess Wisloski
More than 300 students took the monumental walk to their high school diploma on Friday as Champlain Valley Union High School honored its 52nd graduating class of seniors.
The bleachers on both sides of the Roy L. Patrick Gym at the University of Vermont were packed, and the parking garage next to the gymnasium was nearly overflowing with cars, some with windows painted with congratulatory slogans. Spectators perched on wooden benches surrounding the class of 311 red-draped senior high-schoolers from Williston, St. George, Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne, poised to cheer them along with best wishes for the journey ahead.
The 1 p.m. service began with a procession of the seniors to the Triumphal March from the opera “Aida,” lead by class marshalls Maxwell Pudvar and Eva Rocheleau. The pledge of allegiance was led by basketball champ Laurel Jaunich and Williston resident Xavier Waterhouse, who won a Faculty Award this year.
Williston residents Brigitte Durieux and Cole Marino, along with another senior, Rachel Unsworth, sang the National Anthem without missing a note, setting up the speakers for the day’s event.
Student William B. Pinney welcomed the parents and friends by sharing his gratitude for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which last took place when the students were entering CVU as newcomers. He recalled a conversation on his first week of school with new friends, saying how the next time the Olympics would return, they would have graduated.
“No,” my friend said then, ‘Don’t say that. It’s too far away,’” Pinney recalled. “Well, its 2016 now… and I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty amazing to think four years have passed,” he said. “Back in those early weeks of freshman year, we didn’t know what this journey would be like,” but today was similar to the crossroads they faced in those first weeks of school, he said.
“Someday you’re going to have to reflect on this moment and decide whether this was an end or whether it was a beginning…My hope for each and every one of us is that it will be the latter.”
Seniors Jeremiah Cory and Izacco Lozon approached the stage to speak while entrance music played, and gave the day a comedic break, listing off the fears they had about their inability to survive out of high school. They called it the “Now That I Have My High School Diploma and Am Headed Out Into What Adults Like to Call the ‘Real World’ Am Concerned About List.” Among their worries: inability to read maps of college campuses, or understand grades based on a letter system, not a four-point scale.
“When I go to the zoo, I can never find the monkeys. So what makes you think I’ll be able to find any of my classes?” said Lozon. The punchline: Both of them quaked at their ability to function without the support and encouragement of CVU faculty and staff.
Williston resident Shea Savage then delivered a rallying cry to the students gathered, imploring them to forge ahead and make change, shift the world for the better and do things that matter with their lives — even if what matters is simple, or seemingly small.
“No matter what we do next, no matter where our next steps take us, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to change the world. …Change…doesn’t have to be monumental or earth shattering. It can be small, and fragile and feathered. It can be as simple as understanding someone who never thought you could. It can be as simple as learning something new, every single day you’re alive. It can be as simple as choosing to love when sometimes it is so so easy to fear or to hate.”
Senior class gifts were presented by three members of the Senior Class Council; Kyle Jaunich, and Williston residents Jenna Caminiti and Nicholas Sampson.
Caminiti lamented CVU’s “barren front hallway” and noted that it stood in contrast to the school’s “first-rate facilities and fields, one can’t help but notice a bleak entryway.” She presented a sum of money dedicated to putting up bronze lettering in front of the school to brighten the entrance.
The two remaining gifts were memorials to former CVU students: classmate Tony Moran, who would have graduated with the seniors on Friday, and Craig Sampson, who would’ve been in the audience to see his younger brother Nick walk for his diploma.
“Craig Sampson, my older brother, graduated from CVU two years ago. His infectious attitude and outlook on life lightened the halls of CVU and could put a smile on to anyone’s face,” said Nick Sampson, announcing a sum of money would be donated to the Craig Sampson Memorial Fund to continue the young man’s influence at the school. Speaking of Moran, Kyle Jaunich said, “Tony’s dedication to improving the lives of those around him …truly set the bar.”
In the other memorial donation, made in Moran’s name, the seniors are giving money to the Life Program at CVU, which is the alternative education program.
Moran, who lived in St. George, passed away Feb. 9 from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while sitting in his idling car on Texas Hill Road. Sampson, a Williston resident and CVU alumni was a sophomore at Endicott College when he was killed April 23 in a drunk driving crash in a vehicle driven his former Williston classmate Joseph Castano. A court case is proceeding in Massachusetts.
Brooke Merchant, from Williston, introduced the graduation speaker, Robin Fawcett, by recounting some of the pieces of advice she’d gleaned over the years, including, “Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself,” as she pulled out her stuffed octopus Pokey, on the podium.
Fawcett, when she got to the stage, confessed to her students: “You have been one big science experiment,” something carried over from her youth as an aspiring lab scientist once upon a time. “Like the rogue scientist I am, I’ve considered you from all angles,” she said, and then gave a list of discoveries related to so many of the students she had encountered over the years.
When the students walked the stage to receive their diplomas, there was no holding back the enthusiasm, despite the note in the program to hold applause until the end. In the final moments, mortarboards were whipped off and thrown into the air, continuing perhaps the greatest tradition of all.