In many ways Champlain Valley Union High School’s graduation felt like a drive-in movie or a rock festival.
The audience came in cars and parked on a field at the Champlain Valley Exposition. A huge Jumbotron-like video screen to the right of the rock-arena sized stage towered above the proceedings.
The audience could try to listen to the sound system, but the hearing was much better on their car radios where it was being broadcast on the FM band.
At first, everyone was wearing masks, although those began to disappear in some groups, particularly in the back.
“It’s like Woodstock, but without the drugs. Hopefully,” Principal Adam Bunting said before the commencement ceremony began.
Although this undoubtedly was the strangest CVU graduation in history, perhaps the strangest thing was how much it seemed like a traditional graduation. It was pomp and circumstance, on a different scale.
Although the wind could have backed off a bit, the weather was cooperative. As the graduates lined up 25 at a time, many found themselves having tassel hassles, struggling to keep the red and white dangles on the right side of their mortarboards until the appointed left-side shift.
Mekkena Boyd kicked off the rally-style graduation by calling for the gathered to honk their horns three times. From then on, instead of applause there was honking.
After thanking the parents and guardians, Boyd gave a special shout out to Bunting, “who has cried with us, laughed with us, cared for us, and yes quarantined with us.”
She quoted Charles Dickens. “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” She said as she described the problems faced during senior year – the global pandemic, record unemployment and social unrest across the country.
Social change in focus
George Floyd, who was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, was on the minds of many during graduation. Calls of “no justice, no peace” were heard during the presentations.
Boyd said, “As one of very few African-American students at CVU, it is important for me to say that I couldn’t breathe after I saw the video of George Floyd with a knee in his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, begging to breathe. This scene has become far too ‘normal.’”
She urged her fellow graduates to stand against intolerance and work to ensure there are “no more George Floyds, no more Breonna Taylors, no more Ahmad Arberys.”
Jackson Neme said, when he started high school, he would never have imagined he would be speaking from the graduation stage, nor finish his high school career lying in bed on a Google hangout.
Besides being defined by how they’ve responded to hardships they’ve faced, the students will be known for the everyday acts of kindness he’s seen at CVU.
Neme said these deeds will enact change.
Camille Menard announced that the class council was making the biggest gift to the school in history – almost $15,000.
Part of that money was donated to four local food shelfs, part sponsored the gifts given to seniors at the pre-graduation Sweets and Treats event and $2,000 went to two recipients of the Connor Lewis Memorial Scholarship – Emma Rashford and Anthony Nguyen.
Lewis died from brain cancer in June 2017, a few days before his 15th birthday. Lewis’ parents attended, parked a couple of rows from the front with a quilt made of T-shirts spread over the hood of their car.
Football coach and Learning Center tutor Rahn Fleming was this year’s graduation speaker, chosen by the senior class. He told the graduates he wanted his message to be clear – he called upon them to “expand your sense of ‘we.’”
One of the ways he illustrated this was to describe a white board in the Learning Center with the message: “If you want someone to know that they’re important to you, make what’s important to them important to you.”