Maya Phelan

Maya Phelan, left, sings at Champlain Valley Union High School’s graduation in 2020 with her best friend, Kianna Ayer.

Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Adam Bunting said strength is the word for this year’s graduates.

A moment in their first year at school indicated to him how strong the Class of 2021 would be.

During freshman year at the winter carnival, when the school gets together to celebrate and the classes compete against each other with cheers, dances and performances on the Friday before the winter break, one person in the class got up to sing — solo.

“This ninth grader had the courage to stand up in front of 1,300 of her peers. Most of them were upperclassmen,” Bunting said. “A ninth grader just by herself, solo, captivating the entire school in this moment where all of the upperclassmen had their cell phones out with their lights on, to me it was like announcing the arrival of this class of ninth graders.”

That ninth grader was Maya Phelan. She said her class had been tie-dying the week before so she sang “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper.

The school’s enthusiasm for Phelan’s performance gave her lots of confidence. “After that I didn’t stop singing in front of the school. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” Phelan said.

Since then, she’s sung many times, including as the lead in a number of school musicals, at convocation three times and with her best friend Kianna Ayer at last year’s graduation.

Phelan will sing in front of the school again — at her own graduation 3 p.m., Friday, June 11.

Like last year, the ceremony will be at Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex. Although it will be outside in the same field as last year, it won’t be a drive-in ceremony where everyone must sit in their cars.

Bunting said it will be more like a traditional graduation with graduates seated in rows at the front of the audience.

For the rest of those attending, the ceremony will be BYOC — Bring Your Own Chair — sitting behind the graduates.

“We believe, based on the number of folks who are vaccinated, that we can have an unlimited number of attendees,” Bunting said.

Everyone will park in a field behind the graduation site and walk in.

Bunting is hoping for a beautiful day, with brilliant blue skies, and not too hot or too cold. Just like last year.

“If we get some of that nice Vermont weather that happens in June, there’s potential for it to be a spectacular event — celebratory, fun, meaningful and just a real tribute to the journey that these kids have been on,” Bunting said.

As in traditional graduations, the graduates will march in, sit as a class and march out together.

“A professional sound and stage company will assure the live production of the event will be of the highest quality,” information from CVU says. “The entire event will be livestreamed on the internet for free.”

Restrictions about physical distancing and masks will be announced closer to graduation because the governor’s guidelines are changing quickly.

Bunting said, “I think people will just have to be flexible. There may be last minute instructions, and based on last year, people handled that really well.”

CVU has plans to make sure that everyone can make it to the ceremony, including friends or family members with mobility issues.

Bunting said this class has taught him the school needs to be student-centered all the time, not just when it’s convenient for the adults.

This class has made its voices heard in a way that has made the school a better place, he said. “I think this is such a powerful class — their legacy will last for years to come.”

The Class of 2021 was instrumental in bringing social justice issues into the light and helped in the founding of a number of groups such as the Social Justice Alliance. This class helped the school revamp its bullying, hazing and harassment procedures, Bunting said.

“I think our school has often wanted to produce students who are willing to be activists and use their voice. And they’ve done it,” he said. “I’m really proud of this class.”

The graduation ceremony will begin with Phelan singing a request from her principal — “True Colors.”

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