By Rachel Dunphy
Champlain Valley Union High School gained 352 new graduates as the class of 2013 went through their final rite of passage last Friday, June 14, at Patrick Gymnasium.
Thousands of proud parents and friends crowded onto the bleachers and took their seats, as anxious as the cap-and-gown clad marchers who shuffled in as they counted down their final moments as high school seniors.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Christian Jaunich of Charlotte and Dylan Ireland of Shelburne, and a rendition of the national anthem by Lucia Llona of Shelburne, the crowd was welcomed by Allison Zengilowski, CVU’s student body president. Her speech mirrored the excitement of her fellow students – “It’s finally our time to go out and do something. It’s our time to live,” she said – while reminding them that graduation is not an ordeal to “get through,” but a chance to celebrate and reflect on their time in high school.
Zengilowski was followed by three other senior speakers, Ezra Pasackow and Grace Vincent of Shelburne, and Keith Kelly of Hinesburg. Both Kelly and Vincent spoke about the promise of the class of 2013, and the skills they would need to overcome the challenges ahead. “We have the power to change the world from the ground up,” Vincent said. Pasackow took his speech in a different direction, singling out his memories and connections with friends, classmates, and teachers to express the rich and diverse community at CVU. “To my advisor, Mr. Greenwald,” he confessed, alluding to an experience many CVU graduates can relate to, “You gave me a book on freshman day, and I said I read it, but I never read it.”
Next on the agenda was the presentation of the senior class gift by Eben Kassel and Ethan Gagnon, both of Shelburne. The pair announced that the gift would include a $1,000 donation to the Zeke Kassel Scholarship Fund, named for Kassel’s twin brother who passed away last year, and a $4,000 gift to the Val Gardner CVU Student Trust.
At that point, CVU principal Sean McMannon got up to say farewell to this year’s departing faculty, followed by School Board Chair, David Rath, who gave a similar goodbye to McMannon who is leaving this year to take over as the Winooski schools’ superintendent.
Then, after a particularly heartfelt and complimentary introduction by Megan Kloeckner, the commencement speaker, Rahn Fleming, began his remarks by saying, “All I’ve got to do now is live up to that. Does anyone have a tissue?”
Fleming, who works in the learning center at CVU, said he would keep his remarks short as “You’re here to graduate, and your parents are here to watch you graduate, not to hear me pontificate.” On that note he introduced a helper who would run past the stage marking his speaking time with signs reading “8 minutes,” “10 minutes,” and “1 minute left please,” the same ones used during each graduate’s grad challenge presentation a few weeks earlier.
“You guys, as much as any class ever was, are the group that restores hope,” Fleming said of the graduates, telling them to remember above all else just two words: “You matter,” he said. “Your worth is non-negotiable.” He added, “You are capable of love and called to its expression in this world… take with you the best of the best of us.”
The graduates were then awarded their diplomas by Rath, and the ceremony closed with some final remarks from Lily Harris of Charlotte which emphasized the importance of perseverance in the years to come. “I will not give up in the face of challenges,” she had the students echo back to her as a pledge: “I will succeed.”