Iris Robert

South Burlington resident Iris Robert graduated from the Community College of Vermont at a ceremony June 4.

Iris Robert never attended “regular” school. The 18-year-old South Burlington resident, who graduated with her associate degree from the Community College of Vermont last weekend, was homeschooled through high school until she turned 16 and then started taking college classes full-time.

The pandemic turned the last two years at college, what would have been her first experience with actual classmates, into almost all virtual learning. But like many teens who’ve weathered their adolescence during a global pandemic, Robert is resilient.

After a year of writing poetry, throwing pottery, creating a podcast, tackling food insecurity among college students, reluctantly then confidently becoming a student leader, and earning her associate degree, Robert is a little nervous to graduate and a little nostalgic.

“I think it’s really cool that my friends who are in public school who didn’t skip two years are also graduating this year,” Robert said, adding that since she didn’t have a high school graduation this feels extra special.

She recently took grad photos with one of her friends who lives in South Burlington, who she met at summer camp seven years ago. “It was so much fun to get together and catch up on how crazy our lives are and how we’re all going in different directions. I was like, wow, not much has changed besides us,” Robert said.

No, the homeschooler trope is not true — Robert is your average poetry-loving, musical, bookworm teen. She loves Donna Tartt, a writer with ties to Vermont and whose books include “The Goldfinch” and “The Secret History.” The latter is set at Bennington College, where Robert plans to attend in the fall. She’s a poetry junkie, having published her writing with the Young Writers’ Project for years and developed a podcast to talk with other adolescents about their writing. While at CCV, she discovered she likes being a leader.

“I never really saw myself as a leader because I was like, I’m an introvert, I like to follow other people. But then I was like, wait, leadership can be kind of fun,” Robert said. Leadership doesn’t have to be scary; it can be collaborative, she realized, and over the last two years, her skills as a leader have grown.

At the ceremony last weekend, Robert was granted the college’s 2022 student leadership award for her service as vice president of the college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an academic honors society for two-year colleges, and as a member of the student advisory and leadership council. Robert helped earn numerous awards while at Phi Theta Kappa and spearheaded their Honors in Action project that examined food insecurity and culminated in a free meals event with Feeding Chittenden at the Winooski campus this spring.

“When I first started out, I kind of felt weird about taking the lead, like, I’m new here, I’m young, I don’t know if they’re going to like my ideas. But then I started sharing ideas and started to see that I enjoy being a leader and I did a good job of it. Then I thought, I can do this,” she said.

College students are often forgotten when people think about food insecurity, and when young adults consider their own access to food, she argued, noting how many college students are eligible for basic needs assistance but believe other people deserve it more than they do.

“It was amazing to have such direct impact giving out meals, I think because there were so many students who were like, ‘Oh, this really helps me,’ or ‘I’ll take one for my roommate,’ or ‘We don’t have to worry about dinner tonight.’ It felt so cool that we can impact their lives like this,” she said.

Robert hopes to do more community service projects like this when she transfers to Bennington in the fall, but she’s most excited about continuing her passion for writing.

The Young Writer’s Project has been a major part of her life since she was in middle school. In the last couple of years, she’s been a community leader with the project and even started the project’s podcast, Line Break, in March of 2020.

“It’s kind of like a time capsule in a way because I’m sure there will be some point down the line when we’re like, ‘Oh, pandemic? Quarantine? I don’t remember any of that,’ but now we have this physical copy of what we were thinking about at the time, what we were writing about, what our concerns were and how we were feeling,” Robert said. “What was really cool for me is that I had Line Break with me throughout an entire degree, so I can go back to some episodes where I’m talking about my first semester and how nervous I am and how excited, and I can go back to the recent episode where I’m talking about graduation. It’s been with me throughout this whole period of my life and it’s so crazy to now be giving it off to someone. I’m also excited about it.”

Even though she’s graduated, Robert plans to stick around as an intern and mentor to other young writers.

At the graduation ceremony June 4 at the Norwich University campus, over 450 students graduated with associate degrees from the Community College of Vermont alongside Robert, with the student body representing all 14 Vermont counties, along with students from 14 states and 13 countries. The youngest graduate is 17 years old and the oldest is 69. Also among the graduates are 43 veteran and military-connected students, according to a press release.

In addition to Robert’s student award, Montpelier campus graduate Nicole Dawson and Winooski campus grad Jamila Iftin were awarded the 2022 alumni scholarships, and faculty members Allison Dean, Melanie Meyer, and Telly Halkias received the awards for excellence in teaching.

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