White River Valley graduation speech a page-turner

As the rain starts to fall, graduates walk into the tent for White River Valley High School’s commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

As the rain starts to fall, graduates walk into the tent for White River Valley High School’s commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

Tarin Jones, left, and Natalie Kelley, both of South Royalton, Vt., watch friends and family arrive onto the town green as the White River Valley High School graduates get ready in the Red Door Church across the street in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Tarin Jones, left, and Natalie Kelley, both of South Royalton, Vt., watch friends and family arrive onto the town green as the White River Valley High School graduates get ready in the Red Door Church across the street in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ella Perreault, of Chelsea, Vt., kneels as White River Valley High School classmate Shannon Hadlock, of Montpelier, Vt., adjusts her mortarboard tassel as they get ready for their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ella Perreault, of Chelsea, Vt., kneels as White River Valley High School classmate Shannon Hadlock, of Montpelier, Vt., adjusts her mortarboard tassel as they get ready for their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Maria Gray, of Bethel, Vt., signs a card to White River Valley High School principal Jeff Thomas as she and her classmates gather at the Red Door Church across the street from their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Maria Gray, of Bethel, Vt., signs a card to White River Valley High School principal Jeff Thomas as she and her classmates gather at the Red Door Church across the street from their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Zach Frary, of South Royalton, Vt., adjusts his mortarboard and tassel as he and his White River Valley High School classmates prepare for their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Zach Frary, of South Royalton, Vt., adjusts his mortarboard and tassel as he and his White River Valley High School classmates prepare for their commencement ceremony in South Royalton, Vt., on June 17, 2023. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-17-2023 9:58 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — Saturday’s morning rain may not have seemed like the happiest time in which to hold an outdoor high school graduation ceremony, but the four-post tent erected on the South Royalton green to keep the 42 graduating seniors of White River Valley High School — and everyone else — dry as laden clouds overhead threatened was due to a hard-earned lesson, principal Jeffrey Thomas said.

Recalling his own graduation from Springfield High School 40 years ago to the day, Thomas told how just after he received and opened his diploma, a “seagull craps on my advisor and diploma.”

The story won a roar of laughter from all under the tent, as rain pelted.

“So there’s a few things that people have learned since that time,” Thomas advised. “One is you sit under a tent so nothing like that happens. And two is there’s this cool little film over your diploma, so even if it does happen, it’s taken care of.”

But before Thomas got to address the graduates, families and others closely packed under the tent to avoid getting wet from the rain, he was preceded by class salutatorian Wyatt Jones and class valedictorian Ella Perreault, both of whom shared how their four years in high school transformed them from complaining (Jones) and unconfident (Perreault) teenagers into focused young adults.

Jones lauded his classmates as “my brothers and sisters” and White River Valley High School as his “home,” testifying that he came from middle school as a “troublemaker” to become, four years later, “a man who has been humbled by the people here.”

And, although he acknowledged “the family we have here is dysfunctional, disorderly and chaotic,” it nonetheless is also “enjoyable, satisfactory and, well, chaotic,” which will lead him to “miss each and every one” in his school family, he said.

Jones, who is headed to St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vt., to study engineering, cited by name his teachers and school staff members for imbuing him and his classmates with values and virtues that will stay with them all their lives.

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“They have given a piece of themselves to prepare us for the future,” Jones said. “With those pieces, we will push to better ourselves in life and make our teachers proud.”

Perreault, from Chelsea (“where everyone knows everything about everything”), said that coming to the bigger White River Valley High School was uncomfortable at first.

In her freshman year, “I felt like an imposter walking the halls, like I didn’t really belong here,” she said, which was an unhappy change from Chelsea, where “I was totally confident in myself.”

Beginning to have regrets, Perreault said “sophomore year came around” and she found herself acting differently depending upon which group she was around at the time.

But her experience began to change at prom when her date was a friend who “didn’t care about trying to present himself a certain way. He was just being himself, which made me comfortable to be myself as well.”

Perreault, who is headed to Bard College in Red Hook, N.Y., and has her sights on becoming a social justice lawyer, said that was the beginning of a new attitude for her. At prom the following year, when she was a junior, Perreault recounted how she, her best friend, classmate Shannon Hadlock, and another friend surveyed the dance floor and saw that it was empty.

So the three of them took it upon themselves to get things started by taking to the floor.

“I didn’t care who was around or that at one point I could count on one hand how many people were dancing. I chose to be myself and have fun,” she said.

“I tried changing when I came to high school, and I was miserable,” added Perreault, who said the willingness not to care how others perceive or judge you offered a valuable insight into realizing happiness for herself, the benefits of which rub off on others.

“Learn from my mistake, and be silly and loud and unique and smart and whoever you want to be. Not only will you be happier, but so will the people around you who feed off your confidence,” she said.

Now back to Thomas and his non-advice advice to graduating seniors.

Thomas, a former physical education instructor who was became principal in 2022 and was the graduation’s guest speaker, in seeking to help the graduating seniors frame what stretches ahead of them, likened stages in life to “chapters” in a book.

Explaining that the graduates are poised to begin a new chapter, Thomas paused to reflect on many special moments of his current “52nd chapter” in which he got to share with the seniors in their own “chapter 12.”

There was, he counted off, the homecoming bonfire that wouldn’t ignite, just “smoking and smoking;” production of the school play “Alice in Wonderland,” in which Broadway actors “got nothing on us”; the “10 cookouts”; outings such as mountain biking, rock climbing and kayaking; the “KoolCats” podcast; winning sports teams; blood drives; and senior prank, to name only a few.

“I really haven’t given much advice,” Thomas demurred. “It’s just a lot of stories. The only advice I have in talking about stories is this advice: You control the script. Who knows where it’s going to go? I know a lot of chapters in my book didn’t start off really good. But I had the choice to change that by the end of the chapter. And you have that choice as well.

“How do you want your story to be?” Thomas challenged the seniors.”

“I look forward to one day hearing all about your next chapters,” he said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

White River Valley High School Class of 2023

Sam Audette, gap year; Jillian Barry, Springfield College, exercise and sport psychology; Noah Burbank, workforce; Hannah Clavelle, University of New Haven, forensic science/criminal justice, Henry C. Lee School of Forensic Science; Grace Collins, Skidmore College, music education; Emma Diggs; Steven Downer, Champlain College, game design; Ayden Dumont; Nickthaniel Duprey; Lucas Durkee, carpenter, small businessowner; Liyah Fisk-Turkvan, Community College of Vermont/Vermont Technical College; Seth Flynn; Zach Frary, Springfiel d College, exercise science-athletic trainer for college or professional sports; Lexis Grant; Maria Gray, Siena College, history/English double major, Tyler Gray, CCV, associate degree program; Shannon Hadlock, Saint Michael’s College, R.O.T.C.; Teddy Janczak, gap year; Tarin Jones, workforce; Wyatt Jones, Saint Michael’s College, engineering; Natalie Kelley, Champlain College, cyber security; Cody Kopyscinski; Colin LaFramboise; Garett Laskowski, landscaping business/CCV business and landscaping classes; Robert McShinsky, United States Coast Guard; Trinity Melvin; Logan Noble; Reid Penta, Vermont Technical College (Vermont State University); Ella Perreault, Bard College, social justice lawyer-human rights, gender and sexuality studies, Spanish; Tanner Pratt; Eleanor Prestridge, gap year and art school; Tatiana Prior, workforce, moving South; Rachel Puopolo, 2+2 CCV to VSU (Vermont State University) early education, wants to teach in Vermont; Madison Ramos, workforce; Lainey Richards, CCV, work at pre-school; Carlie Robinson, Keene Beauty Academy; Mackenna Rogers, Penn Foster College, veterinary tech to veterinarian; Amya Roussel; Dieter Sieling, Three Rivers Community College, education/teach history, social studies, and philosophy; Sam Slack, Champlain College; Sean Smith, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, mechanical or electrical engineering; Lilly Valley, CCV, business, wants to own business someday; Hannah Vanesse, New Hampshire Technical Institute, radiology; Whitney Mathias, Merrimack College, criminology and business; Loren Young; and Jill Ziai, Fitchburg State University, education.