Chelsea’s 100th Class

Chelsea — Just before he stripped half his wardrobe, commencement speaker Rusty DeWees questioned the 11 Chelsea High School graduating seniors as they sat on stage in their red caps and gowns.

“Is the kid with the worst GPA going to fess up?” said DeWees, a Vermont actor and entertainer who spent time in off-Broadway productions and is best known for his one-man comedy show The Logger.

Grinning, senior Dante Brown, who is entering the workforce after graduation, gave a bashful wave, claiming the title and making the whole gym chuckle at his honesty.

DeWees, who had already given co-valedictorians Cherish Greene and Nicole Pierpont and salutatorian Christina Ferris souvenirs promoting his show, walked toward Brown, and handed him a camouflage onesie stamped with The Logger logo. “You laugh now,” DeWees said. “But one of these days, a lot of these people are going to be working for you because you’re a worker bee.”

DeWees explained that more than just honors students deserve recognition at graduation, offering an unconventional display that resembled more of a conversation with the students rather than a speech at them. Then DeWees peeled off his blazer. He loosened his tie, and flung that off, too. Next came his lavender dress shirt, which he unbuttoned and tossed aside, revealing a tight white tank top.

It read, “Chelsea #1.”

“I’m not coming to Chelsea dressed like that,” DeWees said of his formal clothes, now piled on senior Katelyn Churchill’s lap. “She’s my assistant.”

Theatrically speaking with his hands, DeWees advised the graduates to cherish community, always listen intently, be honest, stay healthy and love each other. Then he challenged them to find their passion and chase after it. “Senior class, no offense, but you don’t hold my future in your hands. I’m all set!” he said.

“You hold your future in your hands.”

The student speeches before his had proclaimed the same message. “I have had the great experience of going through high school with such amazing classmates,” co-valedictorian Greene said, referring to inside jokes and memorable experiences with each of her classmates sitting on stage. “If you had not been who you are, I would not be who I am.”

Class president and co-valedictorian Pierpont said she and her classmates had gone from being timid eighth graders to capable adults, all through hard work as “a strong class, acting as a single unit, able to rely on each other.”

“Essentially, if I were to sum up the last four years in one word, I would say high school is an opportunity,” she said.

Ferris, the salutatorian, thanked the crowd for supporting the small class during its high school years. “Each of us struggled, fought and clawed our way here,” she said.

Principal Mark Blount offered each student a certificate, honoring the group as Chelsea’s High’s 100th graduating class. Above the stage was the class motto of both the class of 1913 and the class of 2013: “May the ropes of the past ring the bells of the future.”

Creating a new tradition, each student selected a handful of red carnations and ventured into the crowd, handing the flowers to guests of their choosing — family, friends or teachers they wanted to thank. Unlike many graduation ceremonies, the crowd wasn’t silent as the graduates received their diplomas, and nobody asked them to be. Applause and cat-calls filled the small gymnasium as each graduate’s name was read aloud. As they turned their tassels from right to left, Hannah Mesh accidentally yanked hers right off, and laughed.

The new graduates filed outside the gym to Rascal Flatts’ My Wish. Several caps decorated with rhinestones glittered in the dim lighting as they left the gym and went outside.

To the cheers of supporters, the graduates released 100 pearly white balloons into the warm air.

Nicole Blodgett, Norwich University; Jacob Brooke, workforce; Dante Brown, workforce; Bryon Carter, College of St. Joseph; Katelyn Churchill, workforce; Christina Ferris, Norwich University; Cherish Greene, University of Vermont; Carl Johnson, workforce; Hannah Mesh, Norwich University; Nicole Pierpont, Norwich University; Jon Trembley, workforce.

Katie Mettler can be reached at 603-727-3234 or at