BENNINGTON -- The 207 members of Mount Anthony Union High School's Class of 2014 received their diplomas on Friday evening, after memorable speeches, plenty of well-wishes, and even a few beach balls.
Moved indoors because of questionable weather, the majority of the graduation ceremony took place in the school's gymnasium. However, the band and overflow seating witnessed the ceremony on the big screen in the auditorium. After the guests and faculty had taken their seats, students began entering two-by-two, to familiar tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." The band, while on the other side of the school, was mic'd so that those watching in the gymnasium could hear them.
The official program began with a recitation of the pledge of allegiance, followed by "The Star-Spangled Banner," performed by senior Carly Rogers. MAUHS principal Sue Maguire was on hand to welcome all those in attendance, after which she and Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District Superintendent Jim Culkeen recognized their respective honor graduates.
"Take a look around you," Maguire said to the graduates, "There are so many people here who helped get you to this point, and they are all so proud of you."
Maguire also offered four simple pieces of advice to the graduates: First, try not to listen to or get caught up with negative people. Some things aren't worth getting upset over. Second, be honest with yourself and others. Third, figure out how to get along with other people.
Finally, she said, "Be flexible. The direction of your life can change very quickly. You can only control your reaction to life's changes."
The first student speech came from class salutatorian Anthony Seward. He reminisced about first entering the school as a freshman, and being convinced that grades were the only thing that mattered in high school. He put his studies ahead of his friends, his personal life, and any other hobbies. One day, a biology teacher told him to experience life, that class rankings and grades won't be important after high school. He thanked all of the teachers who had helped him grow as a person, not just as a student, in his four years, and said that his outlook on his future goals had changed based on that one conversation.
In between parts of the program, no fewer than six beach balls bounced amongst the graduates, often changing direction in mid-air after being hit by a burst of silly string. But during each song, and each speech, the bouncing stopped, demonstrating the respect the graduates held for their fellow classmates.
Valedictorian and class president Keara Sternberg began her speech, "Life is composed of moments, some of them happy, some of them disappointing, some of them worth forgetting, and some which are truly rewarding. We are sharing one of those moments now." At the conclusion of her speech, she implored her classmates to consider, "What will you do with your time?" before declaring, "Once a Patriot, always a Patriot," which earned her a standing ovation.
The faculty speaker, Mark Upright, regretfully informed the students that their graduation requirements had just increased from 24 to 30 credits, including a fifth year of English, and that there was now a required independent study in "bedroom cleaning." Unfortunately, he said, the senior graduation party had also been canceled, as, under the new guidelines, all of them were still juniors.
Upright said that he has many close ties with this graduating class, as, "I have built so many close relationships with all of you, but also because one of the graduating seniors is my son, Matthew."
Upright asked his former students to just talk quietly among themselves if he broke down and cried, because, as he put it, "I'm a crier." He told his students how much he would miss all of them, and that, "It will probably take me until my second Mountain Dew and my third slice of pizza at Ramunto's tonight to get over my sadness."
"Remember," he said, "Your parents love you very much, but the Jacuzzi that is going where you bedroom used to be is arriving on Monday, so we're gonna need you out!" In closing, as he did every morning on the school's morning announcements, Upright asked the students a trivia question: Who are the brightest, most close-knit, and most missed class in the history of MAU?"
"Is it the Class of 2014?" shouted one student, when called upon.
"No, sorry! I was looking for ‘The Class of 1995,' that was an excellent group," responded Upright.
The final event before diplomas were handed out was the presentation of the Senior Patriot Award. "This award is given to a student who embodies the attitudes we embody here at MAUHS," said Maguire. The award went to Aaron Percey, about whom Maguire said, "In a world full of conformists, he stands out as someone who stands up for his beliefs."
Whether they will be continuing their education in a two- or four-year college program, entering the workforce, or joining the military, there is no doubt that the graduates of MAUHS will face many challenges over the coming years. However, Sternberg may have said it best when she said, "Although the future is uncertain, and sometimes intimidating, none of us have any reason to fear what lies ahead."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB