CVU grads honored for ‘bodacious’ persistence

Sixty years after its founding, the Champlain Valley Union High community gathered in the Patrick Gym at the University of Vermont to celebrate the school’s 2024 graduation.

As is to be expected at these annual Redhawk rites of passage, a large percentage of those gathered were tasseled and red.

In one of his final official acts as principal, Adam Bunting, who is taking over as the Champlain Valley School District’s interim superintendent on July 1, welcomed the 330 graduates.

Besides being an opportunity to celebrate the challenges and triumphs on the way to this long-awaited ceremony, Bunting said it was also a final opportunity for us to have some fun as a community.

In that spirit, he invited football coach, learning center tutor and passionate supporter of all things CVU, Rahn Fleming, to get the ceremony kicked off.

Fleming bounded up to the foot of the stage and shouted several times “rally, rally” to which the graduates and their supporters replied with increasing enthusiasm, “Champlain Valley.”

Photo by Scooter MacMillan.
The keening drone of the St. Andrew’s Pipeband of Vermont led the graduates into the ceremony.
Photo by Scooter MacMillan. The keening drone of the St. Andrew’s Pipeband of Vermont led the graduates into the ceremony.

Bunting told the graduates, “When you walk across the stage today, it’s for you, but it’s not yours alone. This short walk is also for your families, your friends, your mentors, teachers and caregivers, your siblings, and even those who challenged you.”

Then, as he has done in the past, Bunting had the graduates stand and point to those in the audience who helped them to reach this milestone and yell their names. And as has happened at previous graduations, a cacophony of acknowledgements caromed off the walls and ceilings of the gym.

Veronica Miskavage followed by doing one of the most heroic things a person can do — singing the National Anthem acapella. After the ceremony, she admitted to “shaking in her boots” beforehand, but you couldn’t tell from her clear, bright, chill-bump-inducing performance.

Kennedy Desautels welcomed everyone by thanking the faculty and staff for making the school so light hearted, but serious when it needed to be.

“We started out as petrified freshmen consumed in a global pandemic and we’ve made it to today,” Desautels said. “We’ve matured; we’ve adapted; and we’ve grown in inches and wisdom.”

Nisha Hickok encouraged her fellow graduates to not “let the little moments pass by while you’re waiting for the big ones to happen.”

Ten years ago George Fidler moved to Vermont from England and, he said, he couldn’t be happier. Back in the land of his birth, they use a term Fidler likes — muddling through.

“It’s a good word ‘muddle.’ It’s not neat and tidy. Muddling is not walking down the street with your chin up, with your head held high. Muddling is tripping over and falling down and crawling and only scraping through by the skin of your teeth, but it is making it.”

He told his classmates that wherever they go in life, they will muddle through. It won’t be easy. It will be hard and messy, but they will all make it.

Sierra Carrier-Potter, Elizabeth Parent and Grace Thompson, leaders of the 2024 class council, announced the traditional class gift that CVU graduates present to the school. Since ninth grade, members of the class have been raising money to support the Champlain Valley school community.

The three graduates shared the news that their class had been able to raise more than $30,000. Besides financing prom and a ball, the funds paid for yard signs for each senior, 16 Adirondack chairs that were placed around the campus, outdoor loudspeakers for games and practices, and a donation to help fund diverse student activities.

Robin Fawcett was the speaker the class of 2024 chose to address them at their graduation.

Fawcett, a theater and public speaking teacher at CVU for 29 years, is retiring after this year, so she was introduced by Storey Merrill and Asher Winsten-Pinel as graduating with their class.

She was lauded by Merrill and Winsten-Pinel for her energy, informal nature and intense energy, while Fawcett lauded their class: “You have made it through the wildest four years of any four years in my three decades of teaching at CVU.”

She said, before the class’ ninth-grade year in the fall of 2020, when education resumed after being suspended the spring before because of the pandemic with a hybrid of days of in-school and days of at-home online instruction, her doctor recommended she should not return to school because they were concerned about “a quirky blood anomaly” she inherited.

What brought her back was her students’ perseverance in practicing the craft of acting with faces muffled by sterile masks, often performing outside in the rain and snow, trying to speak above the school’s goats’ bleating, while their audience of peers sat in chairs akimbo that were sinking into the hillside.

She came back to teach in-school because of her students’ “bodacious, persevering, risk-taking” persistence.

“You have reminded me: Trying expands life, and not just for you, but for every open mind witnessing it. Being around someone in the throes of a positive risk is inspiring. In fact, you’ve demonstrated that we are at our best with this gumption engaged,” Fawcett said. “Thank goodness I did not cloister myself away these wild four years with my embarrassing non-dimpled red blood cells. I would have missed out on all these ways you have reminded me: It is more often the bigger risk not to try.”

To honor their shared beginning, Fawcett said she wanted to go out trying, and she closed her talk by taking out a harmonica she is learning to play and attempted an Italian wandering tune. It took her two tries, but she brought the house down with her musical perseverance.

Then, from A to Z, from Derek Thomas Allen to Alex S. Zuchowski, the graduates received their diplomas, walking across the stage and into the future as their names were read by Ute Otley, social studies and head girls basketball coach, who is leaving CVU for her future as head of the women’s basketball program at Norwich University.

Clare Stackpole-McGrath gave the farewell remarks, saying that, with their diplomas, their lives are just starting.

“You were handed a golden ticket, and you get a front-row seat to the rest of your life,” Stackpole-McGrath said. “This afternoon marks a new chapter in the book of your life. You get to make it what you want. I encourage you to make it a stepping stone, a jumping-off point where new friends, new experiences and accomplishments are made.”