Champlain Valley graduates fill gym with hope

Thirty minutes before the ceremony marking the conclusion of 285 Champlain Valley Union students high school careers, the mostly unmasked gathering was hushed, trying out indoor voices after two graduations outside during the preceding years.

Fifteen minutes before the ceremony in the Patrick Gymnasium at the University of Vermont, the families and friends that were slowly but surely becoming a crowd had begun to realize that it was, after all, a gymnasium. The hum had become louder with occasional cackles of remembered high school hijinks and shouts hailing others to open seats.

Just minutes after 2 p.m., the keening of the St. Andrew’s Pipeband of Vermont split the air, as has been traditional at Redhawk graduations for some years, and the band members marched into the gym to begin the ceremonies marking the end.

After the ubiquitous and incontrovertible music had ceased, principal Adam Bunting said, “I want to welcome you back to the Patrick Gymnasium for our first graduation here since 2019.”

Bunting reminded the graduates that their achievement in reaching this place in their lives was not through their efforts alone. The walk they would soon make across the stage to get their diplomas was not just for them.

“This short walk is for your families, your friends, your mentors, your teachers, your guardians and your siblings,” Bunting said. “The walk reflects the efforts of your community past and the promise to your communities of the future.”

He then asked the graduates to stand and point to someone in the audience who helped them get to this point. Many of the graduates pointed at multiple someones.

Senior speaker Eva Frazier said her class had witnessed some of the most tumultuous events in American history — COVID, widespread economic strife and crumbling social and mental support systems.

Photo by Al Frey Principal Adam Bunting addresses the 2022 CVU graduating class.
Photo by Al Frey. Principal Adam Bunting addresses the 2022 CVU graduating class.

“Across the country, the notions of democracy and hallmarks of American government have eroded,” Frazier said. “In the summer of 2020, racial injustice hit a point of widespread visibility, illuminating for white America the current insidious state of racism in the United States.”

She said she had to return to her graduation speech to revise it after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and again after the shooting in a Tulsa, Okla., hospital.

Although it is easy to feel despair, Frazier urged the graduates “to become the leader you need today by refusing to give in to despair.”

“I urge all 285 of us to use the hope remaining within ourselves to make tomorrow what we hope for today,” Frazier said.

Calling CVU’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program the most impactful program they had seen, Jack Averill, Nora Van Vranken and Oliver Pudvar announced the class gift of the money the class raised during their four years of high school was going to Special Olympics.

The invited speaker for the graduation was CVU graduate Megan Nick of Shelburne, who won a bronze medal in freestyle skiing at this winter’s Olympics in China.

Nick said she knew the last thing the graduates wanted to hear about was another graduate challenge, but she said they might feel better to know she had just finished her graduate challenge — seven years after she graduated from Champlain Valley.

Nick grew up as a gymnast and that was always her dream, but someone suggested she try aerial skiing and it took, even though skiing wasn’t her favorite sport. When she was asked to join a developmental program for the Olympics, she decided to accept the challenge.

Although skiing wasn’t her passion, she realizes now, “It wasn’t so much about which sport I was best at or what extracurriculars might get me into the best college. It was about how I challenged myself that made me the athlete and person I am today.”

Although AP classes and extracurricular activities are important, what was most important to her was challenging herself every day to make herself better.

Nick said, “My story is less about winning a bronze medal and more about the countless failures I’ve endured during these past seven years.”