‘This Is Just the Beginning’: South Royalton School’s 119th Commencement Is a Community Affair
Members of the South Royalton School Class of 2013 cross Windsor Street to the town green for graduation yesterday. (Ben DeFlorio photograph) Purchase photo reprints »
Graduating Brazilian exchange student Renan Lima laughs with a fellow student after playing a friendly joke on him while waiting for South Royalton School commencement exercises to get under way in South Royalton yesterday. (Ben DeFlorio photograph) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton — When the members of the South Royalton School Class of 2013, clad in royal blue and gold, received their scholarship certificates and diplomas, they didn’t just exchange handshakes.
They gave hugs.
It was a community affair, and as their loved ones gathered beneath the large white tent on the town green, late morning sunlight streaming in from the sides, it was apparent that their schooling was part of the community, too.
“I don’t want to go on before I say, how about those Royals?” Principal Gail Trotin said to an roar of applause and whistling, referencing the Division IV state championship the high school’s baseball team won Friday night.
“These students have grown together in so many ways,” Trotin said. “We know this is just the beginning.”
Senior class officer Damon Fulcher welcomed the crowd of beaming parents and proud onlookers with a vocabulary lesson, explaining the difference between the words “commencement” and “graduation.”
“Graduation suggests an end to something, but really, for all of us students, it’s a beginning,” Fulcher said, offering that “graduation” has a reflective connotation and “commencement” carries the tone of a more forward-thinking celebration. “So welcome to the 119th South Royalton graduation and the Class of 2013’s commencement ceremony.”
“Aww’s” echoed throughout the tent as Fulcher took his seat, and salutatorian Sarah Caron took to the lectern.
“We have all been together practically since kindergarten,” she said. “And now we’ve reached this significant milestone in our lives.”
She encouraged her classmates of 13 years to trust themselves and face down their fears, reminding them to appreciate the opportunities they can pursue and the community that helped them succeed.
That “it takes a village” mentality was echoed throughout the commencement ceremony.
“Community isn’t a word I fully came to understand until this year,” Valedictorian Ellen Manby said in her address yesterday, confessing that she loved South Royalton for the same reason that guided her parents there years ago; it is a great place to grow up.
“I’ve known almost everyone behind me my whole life,” she said.
Although she’ll head to the University of Vermont in the fall, Manby said, she was deeply thankful for her hometown and the school that became her second home.
“I’ve spent more time there than my home or anywhere else in the world,” she said.
Within that second home were teachers like Jeffrey Thomas, this year’s commencement speaker, who taught physical education at South Royalton for years before leaving in 2011 to step in as athletic director at Woodstock Union High School.
Thomas stood to the right of the students.
“I didn’t want to stand up there,” he said, pointing toward the stage. “Because my back would be to the people I really want to talk to.”
In the weeks leading up to commencement, Thomas said, he reflected on his time with the Class of 2013 as their AAU basketball, girls soccer or fishing coach, and especially as their gym teacher.
“Not physical educator,” he said light-heartedly. “That’s a little too heavy for me.”
On his way to work or during the school day, Thomas said, he would pull his car over or set aside his office work to scribble down recollections with the 2013 graduating class.
Thomas recalled the time he accidentally left a student at McDonald’s after a post-game grub stop, and his gratitude for senior Dylan Striker, who rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. to help him drill holes in the river during their ice fishing unit in gym class. He praised Peter Yetnick for his enthusiasm, saying, “he’s like being ADD on HGTV.” Thomas thanked the girls for being social and the boys for introducing him to hunting.
He said the Class of 2013 was “strong, Vermont strong.”
Thomas said all these qualities — kindness, enthusiasm, sociability, loyalty, motivation and intelligence — filled the graduates’ hypothetical bucket, an analogy he drew from the book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton.
“I know these speeches are supposed to end with some kind of knowledge, because this speech has been, I don’t know what,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “So here’s this: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Next came the presentation of scholarships and awards by community members and educators, before the graduates were called, one by one, to receive their diplomas.
Proud friends and family hooted and hollered for their graduates, and camera phones captured snapshots of beaming faces with wide grins.
Some of the new graduates cried as they marched beyond the tent’s shade and into the bright sunshine, gathering on the green adjacent to the United Church of South Royalton.
A sign in the church’s front lawn bore a message for the Class of 2013: “God bless all SoRo grads.”
Katie Mettler can be reached at 603-727-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Class of 2013
Here are South Royalton School’s 2013 graduates and their plans for the future, as provided by the school: Emily Berk, Wheaton College; Heaven Bouchard, undecided; Sarah Caron, Wake Forest University; Garrett Chase, Marine Corps; Darren Cilley, workforce; Larin Cilley, New Hampshire Institute of Art; Danielle DeCoteau, workforce; Morgan Donoghue, undecided; Taylor Everett, workforce; Cheryl Flint, Norwich University; Damon Fulcher, University of Rochester; Cole Harrington, undecided; Sierra Hein, University of Southern Maine; Thomas Ingham, workforce; Justin Ives, Vermont Technical College; Jesse James, Marine Corps; Ian Kinnarney, workforce; Kimberly Lakin, Colby-Sawyer College; Lillian Lesmeister, workforce; Renan Lima, Clemson University; Ellen Manby, University of Vermont; Jessica Mayer, University of Vermont; Melissa Murawski, University of Southern California; Eliza-Marie Phillip, New England Institute of Art; Gregory Post, internship; Riley Post-Kinney, Landmark College; James Puopolo, Sarah Lawrence College; Eli Roy, University of Vermont; Taylor Russell, Community College of Vermont; Madison Stearns, University of Vermont; Nicolis Stickney, Norwich University; Brian Striker, Army; Dylan Striker, Army; Kenneth Sypher, undecided; Troy Tracy, Castleton State College; Peter Yetnick, workforce; Raymond Young, workforce; Allison Zug, Coast Guard.