By Luke Baynes
The lobby of the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium was a sea of Redhawks red on Friday, as the Champlain Valley Union High School Class of 2012 stood in caps and gowns waiting for the rest of their lives to begin.
The pre-graduation atmosphere was part giddiness, part apprehension, part relief.
“It’s been a long time,” said Phil Clark of Williston. “This is the day we’ve been waiting for.”
Andrew Dickerson of Shelburne said he’s looking forward to moving on.
“I’m excited,” Dickerson said. “It’s time to not be in high school anymore.”
Mary Collins of Williston had a more practical attitude.
“I’m just trying not to fall,” said the high-heeled Collins. “That’s my one goal.”
Collins, who later surefootedly received her diploma, strutted one of the bolder footwear choices among female graduates. Others wore conservative flats, while many took the middle ground with wedge-heeled shoes, which offered a height advantage without the unsure footing of stilettos.
Even some of the guys took precautions, wearing sneakers instead of hard-soled dress shoes. Ian Sloan went barefoot.
Kate Neil, an exchange student from New Zealand, offered a different take on the ceremony.
“Graduation in New Zealand, it’s just like, ‘You’ve finished all you can do and you can leave now.’ It’s nothing like this,” said Neil. “There’s nothing with a cap and a gown, so all of my friends (in New Zealand) are really jealous that I get this.”
At 1 p.m. on the dot, the Class of 2012 filed into the Patrick Gym to the clashing cymbals of the “Triumphal March” of Verdi’s “Aida” for the start of CVU’s 48th commencement exercise. Flashbulbs lit up the crowd as glittered inscriptions glinted on the tops of graduation caps.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem—sung by soon-to-be graduates Alicia Phelps, Claire Sammut and Jessica Dudley—Student Body President AnnaClare Smith addressed the packed gymnasium with the same Albert Einstein quote she cited to the senior class at the beginning of the school year.
“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour,” she quoted. “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Smith applied Einstein’s jocular theory of relativity to senior year of high school, which is both interminable and transient.
“Today, we can finally understand this quote. In two sentences, Einstein was able to simplify one of the most visibly impossible concepts to understand into something we can relate to—the variable passage of time,” Smith said. “Maybe just for the rest of this ceremony and today, we can sit here and really appreciate the moment. Because as we look back on the past four years, it is clear that time has gone by far too quickly. Or perhaps, at the exact rate it was meant to be.”
The oldest “graduate” at the ceremony was 36-year-old commencement speaker Adam Bunting, the former CVU student and Snelling House director who will assume the principal position at Montpelier High School in the fall.
“Be confident and be strong, Class of 2012. Because we know one thing about you: your scars, your flaws and the painful memories of your missteps are constant reminders and indicators of future success that is deeper than the transitory nature of a college, or a job, or a break or a reward,” Bunting said. “Class of 2012 … I am proud of you and proud to graduate with you. Be okay.”
Following Bunting’s address, the 346 graduates—from Zackary Adams to Andrea Young—took the stage in alphabetical order to accept their diplomas. A smattering of cheers and applause rang through the gym with the announcement of individual names, but none got a larger ovation than Young, who raised her diploma above her head with both hands, prompting the Class of 2012 to loft their caps high in the air in ecstatic unison.
With pre-graduation nerves dispelled, the mood of students after the ceremony was both celebratory and reflective.
“It’s awesome,” said Christian Williford of Williston. “I’m so happy to be done, but I’m going to miss a lot of friends. But I’m looking forward to college.”
Smith, who will attend Middlebury College in the fall, summed up the mixed emotions of high school graduation.
“It’s pretty overwhelming, because four years go by so fast, but it’s a great feeling. We have a really awesome class and it was so much fun to graduate with everyone,” Smith said. “CVU’s such a great school, because there are four towns, and when you come in freshman year you don’t know anyone and you’re excited to meet everyone, and now every single face is like I grew up with them.”