This story is by Melanie Plenda, of the Valley News, in which it was first published here on June 13, 2015.
From their children’s first breaths, first words, first steps, the parents of the 36 students who crossed the threshold of the Windsor High School gym at Friday night’s graduation were waiting for this moment.
Now that it was here, it all seemed too soon. One man in particular, his smile awash with pride as his student started to take those measured steps up the aisle toward the stage, let it slip if only for a moment, into a smile bittersweet at the seams, as he watched his child walk away up that aisle.
“We have watched you grow from toddlers to high school students,” Windsor School Board Chairwoman Amy McMullen told the crowd. “Many of us have volunteered in your classrooms, we’ve sang and danced together in community shows, we’ve cheered them on. ... Today, you are taking a big milestone step.”
McMullen went on to quote from a picture book about just such first steps, Walk On!: A Guide for Babies of All Ages by Marla Frazee.
The book makes the comparison, though not directly stated, between taking those first steps and major life changes. The excerpts McMullen chose reminded the students that though taking those first steps seem hard, all they have to do to start is get a good grip, pull themselves up and stand.
They also reminded them to “find their balance,” “remember to breathe,” and to remember that it’s “common to fall down ... and hey, go ahead and cry if it helps.” In her own words, she told the graduates it was OK to move away. These moves and adventures she said would help them gain new insights and perspectives. But that, once they were done, they should come back home.
“We need you,” she said. “We need your ideas to continue to make Windsor grow. ... we need your skills and talents.” After that, she gave a few final instructions from the picture book.
“When the time is right for you, take the first step,” she read. “And another and another, it’s gets easier, huh? Now you are walking.”
Dean of Students Bob Hingston acknowledged his own excitement and trepidation about his next steps as he delivered a final farewell keynote speech to the students.
Hingston decided to leave his position as the school’s athletic director back in March.
But, he told the students, despite the “roller coaster ride of emotions” he felt in the past week, he would take the advice he was about to offer them: “push on and persevere in time of hardships.”
The rest of his time at the podium was largely spent telling them just how special they were to him and that some of the greatest lessons he’s learned in his life, he learned from them.
So as he readied to part with them, he shared a few such as, “you cannot make someone love you, you can only show someone that they can be loved. The rest is up to them.”
He went on to remind students that it’s not what you have, but who you have around you that matters; a real hero is the person who does what needs to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences; and, to keep going, long after you think you can’t.
And finally, he reminded all present never to tell a child he or she won’t be able to be what they want to be.
“What a tragedy it would be if they believed it,” he said.
Salutatorian Caitlyn Roberts and valedictorian Abigail Millard rounded out the night encouraging students to go out and explore the world, try new things and make change where they could.
Millard told the crowd that she had been thinking recently about a speech she was given by an administrator as she left middle school.
She said she remembered little from the speech except that he pointedly said to them, “You’re it.”
She recounted how she thought, “these 25 hormonal and Justin Bieber obsessed 13- and 14-year olds were it for the future? Yikes.”
But then, she said, that in the intervening years, she’s seen her classmates grow from awkward preteens into young adults willing to face challenges, speak out and exceed expectations.
“(Graduation) is not about what we are leaving behind, but what we are taking with us,” Millard said.
“Our class is full of world changers. ... What we do, is up to us. ... Now let’s go out and make our world great.”
Windsor High School Class of 2015: Isaiah Bates, Keene State College; Ashlee Bly, Plymouth State University; Joshua Carpenter, Bridgewater College; Ashley Creighton, Southeastern University; Mallory Curtis, University of Vermont; Alexis Davis, work; Benjamin Fisher, Paul Smith’s College; Shelbie Gebert, Americorps; Brandon George, work; Kathleen Gilman, Loyola University; Sidney Gudisman, U.S. Navy; Blaine Ingalls, work; Peter Jaarsma, University of New Hampshire; Valerie Koch, UVM; Nicholas LeBeau, UVM; Kyle Lyon, University of Southern Maine; Elizabeth-Ann Matthews, Keene State College; Brian Meagher, apprentice electrician; Abigail Millard, Gordon College; Maryam Orogi, Community College of Vermont; Matthew Parker, River Valley Community College; Esther Peters, Keene State; Michael Rice, work;Caitlin Roberts, Salve Regina University; Emma Saucier, Vermont Technical College; Nolan Schaffer, University of Rhode Island; Russell Simonds, Lyndon State College; Jennifer Smith, CCV; Katherine Soho, work; Joshua Spaulding, work. Elizabeth Turco, College of St. Joseph; Laura Walasewicz, Castleton State College; Iyanna Williams, Castleton State; Haley Wood, Bryant University; Brianna Wright, CCV.