Thetford Academy graduates celebrate an ‘unorthodox’ four-year journey

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-15-2024 7:53 AM

Modified: 06-17-2024 3:03 AM


THETFORD — They entered to pods and COVID and exited to pomp and circumstance: The past four years had not been easy for the senior class of Thetford Academy, but their graduation on cooling Friday evening was a time to remember, express gratitude and celebrate their accomplishments.

“We all began high school in a very unorthodox way,” Class President Addison Cadwell acknowledged in her welcoming remarks, alluding to the disruption in learning that awaited her classmates when they arrived at Thetford Academy as freshmen in the fall of 2020 with the COVID pandemic sweeping the county. “And although that experience created challenges, those challenges, created, some pretty cool people.”

How unorthodox?

For starters, the 56 members of the class had been divided into “pods” of a dozen to 14 students each and assigned a classroom from which they could not leave and to where meals were brought to them during their freshman year. Interaction with other students outside their assigned “pod” was forbidden.

She and her classmates “did not have ‘normal’ school until halfway through our sophomore year,” said Cadwell, who will be attending Dickinson College in the fall. “This created some need for catching up, to say the least,” offering that she could speak “for both students and teachers when I say, online learning is hard.”

Despite those “chaotic years,” Cadwell wanted her class’ teachers and parents to know “you all helped us learn and grow academically and a young adults, so thank you.”

Thetford Academy’s commencement has its traditions.

Two juniors known as “marshals” hold candy stripe batons horizontally in front of them that they lower and raise as they take halting steps leading the senior class in a two-by-two line from the main school building down the grass slope to their seats. Shortly after the ceremony gets underway, the seniors step off the stage to present two carnations apiece to teachers and loved ones in the audience who “played a role in their high school careers” as a token of gratitude and appreciation.

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Then there is the reciting of two school songs — “Fair Thetford” (19th Century) and “Thetford, We Revere Thee” (20th Century).

Finally, unlike typical high school graduations in which there is the obligatory “reach for the stars but keep your feet on the ground” exhortation by a school administrator, Thetford Academy’s commencement is nearly entirely an event drawing upon the students themselves, who alternately speak, sing, perform a music ensemble and recite a poem they wrote to honor their passage through the school.

The poem, 13 rhyming couplets titled “Adios” written and delivered by Ben Mattern as an expression of Thetford Academy experience, began by observing: “There is a school on a hill/Whose students oft raise a trill” that is “A place to academically thrive/More than just merely survive,” and bemoans “today’s my last day as a panther/But it’s not so bad, after all, we’re not very far from New Hampshire.” (Mattern is headed to Dartmouth College across the river.)

There was plenty of music and song, too, all ably performed by students.

Siblings Saylor Billiau, a senior who will attend Bishop’s University, and her brother, Hugo Billiau, a junior, together sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Eli Dybvig (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Harlequin Copeland (University of Vermont) accompanied on the electric piano by Andre Whitberg, a junior, played a thumping rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” while an eight-student “stage band” performed Chicago’s 1970 hit “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?” followed by Nona Simone’s “Feeling Good.”

The serious reflection about how the Class of 2024, which entered with the COVID pandemic and rose to the challenge of meeting often on-the-fly learning methods, fell to Acadia Cook, who is headed to Emmanuel College.

In an eloquent speech, Cook honored her classmates by letting them know how “incredibly proud” she was at what they collectively accomplished.

“For the past four years, you have worked beyond your limits, dealt with cards you did not deserve and pushed to finally get to this point,” she said.

Cook hearkened back to “four years ago” when they had entered ninth grade and were “sitting in a ‘pod’ ” and contrasted that time with “four months ago” when everyone was “somewhere in the middle of their year drowning in college applications” and right up to “four hours ago … practicing for this very moment” until finally “four minutes ago (when) you realized this chapter is finally over.”

“And in around 40 minutes you will no longer be a high school student,” said Cook, looking to the future.

Thetford Academy Class of 2024

Nattaly Jordann Adams, workforce; Owen Almond Bicknell, Vermont State University; Saylor Tacy Billiau, Bishop’s University; Kelsey Farr Bogie, Vermont State University; Mary Giacoma Bosco, Middlebury College; Charlize Marie Brown, Ithaca College; Addison Thurston Cadwell, Dickinson College; Acadia Lauren Cook, Emmanuel College; Harlequin Silas Copeland, University of Vermont; Chenoweth Elizabeth Donohue, Western Colorado University; Audrey Grace Dowell, University of Vermont; Leo North Downey, Vassar College; Natalie Elaine Drescher, Champlain College; Eli Sapphire Ireland Dybvig, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Mason Jean Fahey, Mercyhurst University; Nathan Jordan Harris, Brandeis University; Ailia Hedgepeth, Emerson College; Anne Catherine Hesser, University of Vermont; Espen Keeran Hutchins, workforce; Jasper Lee Jones, University of Arizona; Daniel Crews Kasten, gap year; Asa Louis Kelleher, University of Utah; Elizabeth Rose Knaus, University of New Hampshire; Samantha Grace LaPlume, Massachusetts College of Art & Design; Chase Matthew LeFevre, workforce; Whitney Marion Lewis, St. Lawrence University; Finn Erik Abbott Liland, The George Washington University; Cecilia Johanna Essex Luce, Northwestern University; Alford Charles Manning III, workforce; Kayla Lynn Martin, Community College of Vermont; Benjamin Bailey Mattern, Dartmouth College; Ella Shannon Maxwell, Keene State College; Benjamin John McIlvaine, Clark University; Iris Elizabeth Morand, workforce; Layne Thomas Mullen, workforce; Shannon Nora O’Donnell, Community College of Vermont; John Francis Paquette, workforce; Mitchell Elias Parkman, Keene State College; Benjamin Thomas Perron, workforce; Aden Rigel Patrick Perry, Rochester Institute of Technology; Anikin Plamondon Peters, workforce; Peter Maxson Quayle, gap year; Samuel Adams Richardson, Community College of Vermont; Wyatt John Riemer, workforce; Larry Justin Robinson, University of Vermont; Henry David Sayers, workforce; Margaret Elizabeth Smallwood, University of Vermont; Grace Willow Solsaa, gap year; Zurael Jocelyn Star, gap year; Madeleine Natalie Cates Thaxton, Connecticut College; Mary Alice Veracka, University of New England; Xander Cordell Waln, workforce; Ashton Perry Waters, workforce; Justin Preston Wylie, SUNY New Paltz; and Oliver Rudolph Yukica, Princeton University.