BENNINGTON — The Vermont School for Girls celebrated the achievements of its students, both academic and charitable, during an end-of-the-year celebration on Wednesday.
Students were given awards for their performance in academic subjects, and for their growth over the course of the year. Four students who earned their high school diplomas this year were honored, as well as the students who had earned the credits to move from middle to high school. After, Ralph Bennett, the school's director of operations, invited guest speaker Ana Gomez to address the students.
Gomez is a well-known author and lecturer from Arizona, and is an expert in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which the school uses. The EMDR Institute describes the practice as, "a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories." Bennett said he had first met Gomez at an EMDR conference in Colorado, at which she was a speaker.
"Today is a day of celebration," she said, "We're here to celebrate endings, and we're here to celebrate new beginnings. It marks the beginning of a new era, the start of something new, and I'm so privileged to be here at this moment, for the ones of you that are graduating." She called on the graduates to recall the people (and animals) who had been a part of their lives, who had helped them get to that point.
"Let's take a moment to honor your past," she said, "What you received and what you did not. Let's honor the scars, the outer and inner scars that, whether we admit to them or not, we all creatures of this planet carry. You may think I'm crazy, but I have a great appreciation for scars, mine and others'. Scars remind us of the greatness in us. They remind us of the healing powers that exist in each of us, and the intelligence that exists in each of our selves. Scars remind us of where we've been, and the battles that we've fought. But they also remind us of bravery, the courage, and the plain greatness that we all possess."
"However," she said, "Let's learn from the past, but don't let the past define us. Don't let the past define your future, and your quest to make your dreams come true."
A group of students was also honored for working with the Vermont Arts Exchange to make "pillow pets" and cloth dolls for the Project Against Violent Encounters, which then distributes them to children who come for shelter and support. PAVE is an organization that has been providing support and services to victims of domestic and sexual violence for over 30 years.
"I can't tell you how many children have received wonderful pillows when they've come for shelter," said PAVE Executive Director Linda Campbell in an address to the students, "I can't tell you how special this is for me and our staff. It's a wonderful program, and I hope the girls continue. It's always wonderful to give back to your community. Thank you so much."
"We started by making designs on paper," said student Angelina Robles, "and then we just cut them out in shapes and put them on fabric, then we cut them out and started sewing."
She said they had designed all the pillows from scratch, using the internet for inspiration. VAE director Matthew Perry said about 12 students worked with instructor Kristen Blaker on this project. This is the third year that the students and VAE have joined together to make toys for PAVE.
"We see a lot of families coming through PAVE," said Campbell, "and oftentimes children have to leave their homes with nothing. So to be able to have them go to a basket and pick up a pillow that they can hug, they can take to bed, whether they're going to be on a bus, in a motel, or in a safe home, they have something that they chose, that they can then take with them. Children love these, we display them at our office. It's very important, we love this project."
Perry said he is hoping to expand the project and give dolls to police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders who interact with children, and is looking for volunteers who would be willing to help pay for materials and donate their time and sewing skills. Anyone interested in helping with the project can contact the VAE at 802-442-5549 or email@example.com.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.