Rivendell graduates encouraged to find supporters along life’s journey

At the end of the Rivendell Academy's commencement, fellow graduates Jillian Bushee, left, and Lily Otis embrace on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

At the end of the Rivendell Academy's commencement, fellow graduates Jillian Bushee, left, and Lily Otis embrace on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

After checking the name, Rivendell Academy school counselor Nancy Hall hands Principal Keri Gelenian the next diploma during the school's commencement on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After checking the name, Rivendell Academy school counselor Nancy Hall hands Principal Keri Gelenian the next diploma during the school's commencement on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rivendell Academy graduate Derek Vogelien listens during the school's commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rivendell Academy graduate Derek Vogelien listens during the school's commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Rivendell Academy graduate and valedictorian Tovahn Vitols tries to close classmate Colin Gagner's pinkie in his diploma after their commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 10, 2023 in Orford, N.H. On the left is Class Marshal Eli Mansur. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rivendell Academy graduate and valedictorian Tovahn Vitols tries to close classmate Colin Gagner's pinkie in his diploma after their commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 10, 2023 in Orford, N.H. On the left is Class Marshal Eli Mansur. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By RAY COUTURE

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 06-11-2023 6:15 AM

ORFORD — Ryleigh Butler, salutatorian of Rivendell Academy’s 2023 graduating class, stepped to the podium for her address to her fellow graduates Saturday morning inside the school gymnasium and told them they were cars.

“You are a car and the road you are traveling on is your life and the journey that is before you,” Butler said. “And being a car, you need fuel, you need people around you to fill you up and give you what you need to continue on your journey.”

The analogy came from her therapist, Butler said, and it’s one that’s stuck with her. Going out into the real world, she told her classmates, would make the need to find “the people who can fill you up for hundreds of miles” all the more important.

“Remind yourself that you deserve to have people that will support you,” Butler said. “Find someone who is there when you need a pit stop, someone who will fill up your tires, and someone who will join you on your journey.”

Butler and the 21 other Rivendell Academy students who graduated Saturday morning (a 23rd, Sierra Flint, was part of the 2023 class cohort but graduated one year early and also delivered a speech as cohort valedictorian) were reminded throughout the ceremony just what a small and intimate group they have had together in comparison to previous graduating classes.

Keri Gelenian, Rivendell Academy Principal and Head of Schools for the Rivendell Interstate School District called them an “unusual and small” class that has had many students come and go. Calling them “eclectic,” Gelenian offered vignettes about each student.

He noted how Benjamin Hooke, Colin Gagner and Valedictorian Tovahn Vitols had never missed a theater production since the seventh grade, how Butler would disappear into the art room “for a year,” and how Josiah Welch and Harrison Molesworth “stepped up as a super pair of leaders” on the athletic field.

Gelenian also discussed the concept of courage and the importance of facing challenges head-on.

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“If something is making us fearful or putting anxiety in our guts, we shouldn’t immediately avoid the difficult choice,” Gelenian said. “We need to think about the consequences of stepping away from the situation or stepping towards it.”

Eric Reichert, a language arts teacher at the school, used his address to the graduating class to humorously bemoan the rise of artificial intelligence-based writing software like ChatGPT and to highlight the individuality of each of the students.

“I am disgusted by A.I. because it diminishes the power and potency and creativity and beauty of the thing I love the most in this world: Words,” Reichert said. “. . . I cherish all words. Good words, bad words, long words, French words, American words, even Italian words. . . everything that we are in this world is reflected in words.”

Reichert said A.I. could not recreate the “real-life intelligence” exhibited by graduating students Abigail Harrington, Lily Otis and Jillian Bushee in his classroom, nor could it comprehend the heartwarming feeling he experienced watching Hooke develop as a budding sportswriter.

“If I typed ‘Italian baseball’ into ChatGPT, I would be told about the fact that the Italian national team has an espresso machine in the dugout,” Reichert said to waves of laughter from the audience. “But the truth is, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, Italian baseball players like Mattia (Cacciatori) hit nukes.”

The graduation ceremony also honored the memories of Jackson Isenberg and Angela Ricker, deceased former students who would have been in this year’s graduating class. Butler, as outgoing editor of the yearbook, presented each of their families with a yearbook-dedication certificate along with an honorary cap-and-gown.

After the graduates received their diplomas, Peter Tice, a math teacher at the academy, warned them against the “illusion of choice” presented by modern society — referencing the philosophical work of Jean Baudrillard’s “the Hyperreal” — and presented them with two fundamental options for their lives going forward: Either embrace the Hyperreal and enjoy a preset existence that will be comfortable but never extraordinary, or choose a path of courageousness and risk and venture into the unknown.

“(There) is the trick about courage, there is no algorithm, there is no menu, there is no best practice,” Tice said. “You have to choose, fail, and choose again and maybe fail again and keep doing it again and again until you succeed.”

Ray Couture can be reached at 1994rbc@gmail.com with questions or story ideas.

Rivendell Academy Class of 2023:

Alyson Ballou, Vershire, Community College of Vermont; Jillian Bushee, Orford, gap year; Ryleigh Butler, Fairlee, Thomas Jefferson University; Mattia Cacciatori, Italy, exchange student, Italy/university; Zachary Cilley, West Fairlee, gap year; Mariah Coburn, West Fairlee, Community College of Vermont; Colin Gagner, Fairlee, Rochester Institute of Technology; Joshua Gould, Orford, automotive industry; Abigail Harrington, Orford, Lesley University; Benjamin Hooke, Vershire, University of Kansas; William Howe, Vershire, Champlain College; Harrison Molesworth, West Fairlee, Florida State University; Sofia O’Leary, Fairlee, Community College of Vermont; Lily Otis, West Fairlee, Community College of Vermont; Zachary Parker, Orford, landscaping business; Ashton Pierson, Fairlee, construction industry; Logan Putnam, Orford, Southern Maine Community College; Jonathon Strout, Vershire, River Valley Community College; Austin Traendly, Fairlee, Miami University of Ohio; Tovahn Vitols, Vershire, University of Vermont Honors College; Derek Vogelien, Orford, University of New Hampshire; and Josiah Welch, West Fairlee, St. Michael’s College.