June 18, 2009
By Tim Simard
The 2009 Champlain Valley Union High School graduating class marched into a new chapter of life on Friday with diplomas in hand and words of wisdom on how to best succeed in the future.
Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Champlain Valley Union High School seniors sit through graduation ceremonies on June 12.
Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Graduates line up inside Patrick Gymnasium.
Courtesy photo by Pogo Senior
Best friends (from left) Shaun Senior, Alex Shea and Tommy Powers, all of Williston, celebrate their graduation just after receiving their diplomas.
There was not a seat to be had at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium Friday afternoon. Thousands turned out to watch the 330 graduates finish their high school careers.
Due to heavy vehicular traffic in and around the university, many attendees arrived while graduates entered the gym. Late arrivals, however, didn’t slow the ceremony once it began. And morning rains gave way to bright sunshine, just in time for families to gather outside and celebrate after the commencement ended.
Before receiving their diplomas and officially capping off four years at CVU, graduates listened to a number of speeches from their peers. Embracing change and remembering the life lessons learned in high school were themes echoed throughout several speeches. Former teacher and guest speaker Bill Mares urged graduates not to fear failure and even embrace it when it inevitably occurs.
The seniors of 2009 also unveiled their class gifts to the school: an industrial-strength coffee maker for CVU’s janitorial staff and a $5,000 donation to the high school’s auditorium renovation project.
Senior Jahala Dudley kicked off the commencement ceremony, saying she hoped to keep her speech “short, funny and good looking.” But she also wanted to inspire her peers. After 13 years of education, from kindergarten to middle school to CVU, Dudley said the graduates should not be afraid of what lies ahead.
“After you depart here this afternoon, everything will change,” Dudley said. “I’m here to reassure you that change is a good thing.”
Three other seniors gave brief addresses to the crowd. Timothy Reichert spoke about the importance of what his peers learned while in class at CVU. He also urged his fellow graduates to take risks in life and not to be afraid of doing so.
“We must apply what we learned here to our future,” Reichert said.
Hillary Benoit said the last four years at CVU helped define everyone as unique individuals. Benoit spoke about her own difficulties while in high school, including apathy toward learning during her freshman year. Many teachers and administrators did not support her, Benoit said, and some even urged her to “drop out.”
“Nobody thought I was ever going to graduate,” Benoit said. “What I really wanted to do was just succeed. This was hard, but I did it.”
Benoit credited her time with CVU’s Life Program, an alternative school learning curriculum, with helping her graduate.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be moving on,” she said.
Sara Kassel’s speech took the nontraditional route as her speech rhymed and flowed like poetry. Using imagery and color, Kassel enthusiastically said graduating from CVU was only the beginning of the best years to come.
“Take a breath and shut your eyes because the chlorine in the pool of life will turn your hair green if you’re not careful,” Kassel said, before finishing with, “I will get a job, I will travel the world. My voice will be heard!”
Former CVU teacher and renowned author Mares talked about the positives of failing and how some of the best success comes through epic failure. In a fast-changing world, it’s important to not be afraid to fail, he said.
Quoting writers and historical figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, Mares finished with a Michael Jordan quote from a Nike television commercial.
“I fail over and over and over again in life, and that’s why I succeed,” Mares said.
Commencement ended on a high note, as Benjamin Bond and Jacob Tischler surprised the class. With an animated display of stunts and juggling, thanks to a cushion mat laid upon the stage prior to their routine, the two quickly wrapped up four years at CVU.
“We’ve learned all the skills we need to take on life’s projects,” Bond said, and together with Tischler, shouted: “We truly deserve to graduate!”