As people gathered in Patrick Gymnasium for the Champlain Valley Union High graduation, a jazz trio of students was playing “My Favorite Things.”
One favorite thing was that the trio’s version was more Coltrane and very little “The Sound of Music.”
The preferred female footwear at the Champlain Valley Union High School graduation was high heels. Or lace-up boots or sneakers. Males were mostly dressed in Hush Puppy knockoffs. Or sneakers. Birkenstocks were few and far between on everybody.
It’s good to be well-heeled when taking a major step like graduating.
As the crowd gathered and shuffled to their seats, most of which were in the bleachers that inspired many to reconsider their choice of footwear, it became apparent that one vestige of the pandemic is that the fist bump has replaced the handshake.
There were handshakes as old acquaintances or distant relatives who hadn’t seen each other in years greeted each other, but they were outnumbered by fist bumps.
Principal Adam Bunting lead the members of the Champlain Valley School District board on stage to a smattering of applause. It was the half-hearted response typically received by opening acts. Those gathered had come to see the headlining act, the 350 students graduating. The loudest applause and cheers were saved for them.
Shortly after, the drone of bagpipes could be heard and the St. Andrew’s Pipeband of Vermont processed into the gym. The pipeband includes Ava Rohrbaugh as a member; who was also graduating that night.
Then a solemn and steady procession of students entered, wearing the red robes of CVU graduation. As the graduates walked in, ad hoc, individual cheering sections broke out as family and friends tried to get a wave or just a smile of acknowledgement from their favorite graduate. Most of the grads were immune to the audience shenanigans, remaining stoic, eyes straight ahead, ignoring the pleas of loved ones to join in their perpetual, pride-inspired foolishness.
Senior speaker Anders Erickson encouraged the audience to find the “chocolate chips” in life. Whether you’re happy or sad, just one chocolate chip will make you smile he said, and to ensure that people were smiling, he pulled out a huge bag of chocolate kisses which he showered the seniors with.
“Although it seems like forever, high school comes to an end sooner than you may think,” said Ananya Rohatgi, another senior speaker.
She said there were a lot of things they may have once believed really mattered, but now she sees there is only one thing that truly matters: How do they “transition from familiarity and into the next chapter of our lives?”
Rohtagi urged her fellow graduates to not be afraid of change or worried about stepping away from what’s familiar “instead, keep your eyes open, buckle up and be ready to do something great.”
Emma Bosma, Sophie Bail-Dolan, Isabella Nash, Justine St. Martin and Dominik Tetreault announced that the senior class’ gifts to the school were a donation to the Friends of CVU and a pickleball court.
Kaitlyn Boget, Ella Polli and Zoe Zoller introduced the invited speaker for their graduation, social studies and advanced placement economics teacher, Christopher Smith. The three said they had gotten to know Smith best as their soccer coach. They recalled the grueling workouts he put them through that they referred to as “Chris time.”
Smith said he was giving his speech exactly 50 years since he graduated from high school. In a sense, he is graduating from high school for a second time now because he is retiring after this year.
It is also his second retirement because he retired from a corporate career to go into education.
Smith said he has come to believe that happiness is achieved through passion and purpose. Earlier in life he had jobs where he was comfortable, but he didn’t have passion or purpose.
“I challenge you to find a passion and to find a purpose and to allow that to drive your day-to-day actions,” Smith told the graduates and their supporters. “I believe fully, if you can do that, you can find happiness and your place in the world.”
Cameron Steele received the first ever acknowledgement of public service from Bunting.
Steele related the theme of taking care of yourself and others to his experience of being a high school student while also being a member of the Hinesburg Fire Department and Rescue Squad.
Then Bunting and board chair Angela Arsenault recited the dialogue that principals and school board chairs have performed for years at Champlain Valley Union graduations.
“I recommend that they be recognized as graduates of our high school, the class of 2023,” Bunting said.
And as the chair has traditionally said, Arsenault replied: “By virtue of the power and responsibility vested in the high school, and as chairperson of its board of directors, I wholeheartedly accept your recommendations. Congratulations!”