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Helping to Keep Their Promises: 31 Sharon Academy Graduating Seniors Reflect Back

  • Liz Zaroogian reacts with surprise after learning from Head of School Michael Livingston that she had been awarded a $5,000 college scholarship during the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014.  Zaroogian was one of two Sharon students to receive the Frank M. and Olive F. Gilman Foundation Scholarship, an annual college scholarship given to graduates of 21 high schools mainly in the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Liz Zaroogian reacts with surprise after learning from Head of School Michael Livingston that she had been awarded a $5,000 college scholarship during the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. Zaroogian was one of two Sharon students to receive the Frank M. and Olive F. Gilman Foundation Scholarship, an annual college scholarship given to graduates of 21 high schools mainly in the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Liz Zaroogian reacts with surprise after learning from Head of School Michael Livingston that she had been awarded a $5,000 college scholarship during the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014.  Zaroogian was one of two Sharon students to receive the Frank M. and Olive F. Gilman Foundation Scholarship, an annual college scholarship given to graduates of 21 high schools mainly in the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Head of School Michael Livingston gives last-minute guidance to graduating seniors before the Sharon Academy graduation in Sharon, Vt., on June 15, 2014. "Take your time. Have fun. Breathe," Williamson said, before the seniors formed lines for the processional. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Click here for a photo gallery.

Sharon — Michael Livingston, The Sharon Academy’s head of school, began Sunday’s commencement ceremony by painting a picture of “the joy we experience here on such a regular basis.”

To do so, he described a video taken by the school’s Facilities Manager Randy Leavitt, which showed Livingston’s truck traveling down the edge of the school’s soccer field with graduating senior Brian Renfro behind the wheel.

Not only was the head of school’s truck being operated by a student, but the truck was towing a picnic table at which Renfro’s classmate Wyatt Blanchard sat, his lunch laid out before him.

In Livingston’s telling, Renfro waved and smiled at the camera as the truck drove by, while Blanchard shouted “bon appetite!”

Anywhere else, a scene such as this might seem odd, but according to Livingston and the 31 graduating seniors who shared their thoughts with those gathered in the independent school’s gymnasium on Sunday, pulling a picnic table behind the head of school’s truck is more like par for the course.

“Welcome to our world,” said Livingston. “A world I wouldn’t have any other way.”

Some schools might hand out trophies in addition to diplomas at graduation, but Livingston gave out gifts that matched students’ quirks and interests. For the girl who prefers not to wear shoes — Teagan White of Tunbridge —he gave purple flip flops with a string so she can wear them around her neck; for the girl who sold raffle tickets for the athletic booster club — Greta Binzen of Strafford — he gave a necklace made from the tickets; for the boy who will be venturing to Brown University — Ben Hayslett-Ubell, the first TSA graduate to do so — he gave a red plaid hat with ear flaps so he won’t forget his Vermont roots.

In addition to the quirky awards, Livingston did announce some more traditional honors, including two scholarships from the Frank and Olive Gilman Foundation to Abigail Hurwitz of Stockbridge, and Elizabeth Zaroogian of Tunbridge, as well as the Green and Gold Scholarship from the University of Vermont, which will allow Margaret Gish to attend college tuition-free.

Humor and celebration were themes that shone through during the three-hour event. Another theme was that of overcoming challenges.

The graduation, which took place on Father’s Day, was an opportunity for three of the graduates to reflect on their fathers who could not be in attendance.

Graduate Ivy Arnold recalled her father’s death seven years earlier. She said she had made a promise to him before he died that she would be strong and brave. While keeping that promise has been difficult, she said the love of the TSA community has propped her up.

“Thank you for your love, support and helping me keep my promise,” said Arnold.

Similarly, graduating senior Jessica Chadwell of Stockbridge reflected on losing her father to cancer last August.

“Beautiful things are sad because they are impermanent,” she said.

Despite the fleeting nature of happy moments and relationships, Chadwell encouraged her classmates to “keep them alive in our memory.”

She said, “we live on forever in hearts of the people we touch.”

Champlain College-bound Amos Byrne, who lost his father just before he started high school, told his fellow graduates not to make lemonade from the lemons they face in life, but to give the tart fruits back.

Byrne said that when he lost his father he had two options, to “turn to the dark side or learn that life is full of crap like this and the entire point of life is learning to deal with it.”

Other students may not have had to contend with the death of parents, but they had their own challenges.

Mollie Faccio trained a service dog, named Beatrix who accompanied her during the ceremony. She said having trained a pet — ruined soccer cleats and all — she could empathize with the struggles her parents and teachers must have faced in raising her.

She said both she and her dog possessed attributes such as stubbornness and curiosity, which can sometimes get in the way of proper learning.

While the two will move on to separate careers, Faccio to Savannah College of Art and Design and Beatrix to a person in need of her services, they both “have family to come back to if our plans don’t work out.”

During the last speech of the day, Hayslett-Ubell recalled his life before TSA when he “used books like a drug to shut out my current reality.”

Walking into the school building, he said he felt a sense of comfort, which allowed him to express himself by singing in the hallways, pondering string theory or wearing a bejewelled skirt.

“I’ve become a weird weirdo,” he said. “I love it.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CLASS OF 2014

Cotey Anderegg of Sharon, Carnegie Mellon University; Ivy Elizabeth Arnold of Gaysville, University of Vermont; Margaret Binzen of Strafford, Skidmore College; Wyatt Blanchard of Sharon, Paul Smith’s College; Amos Hostetler Byrne of Chelsea, Champlain College; Jessica B. Chadwell of Stockbridge, Skidmore College; Rosemary Connelli of Strafford, Green Mountain College; Stephen Davis of Bethel, UVM; Sierra Serene Dreesman of Strafford, gap year; Mollie Lynn Faccio of Strafford, Savannah College of Art and Design; Emmanuelle Farrington of Stockbridge, Mount Holyoke College; Madlen Fields of Hartland, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts; Aoife B. Fullerton-Meaney of Norwich, UVM; Margaret Rachel Gish of Sharon, UVM; Benjamin Gross of Tunbridge; Benjamin Hayslett-Ubell of Tunbridge, Brown University; Isabelle Hotelling-O’Connor of Corinth, gap year; Abigail N. Hurwitz of Stockbridge, UVM; Emery L. Jenkins of Tunbridge, Vermont Technical College; Hannah McFadden of Strafford, University of Colorado Boulder; Caroline Fay Price of Sharon, Roger Williams University; Brian Renfro of Hartland, University of Maine; Paul D. Roberts of Hartland, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Samantha Robertson of Pittsfield, University of Maine; Lucien Alexander Rosenbloom of Hartland, Warren Wilson College; Andrew Ruddell of Tunbridge, gap year; Corazon Marguerite Swanberg of Sharon, Wheelock College; Aenea Thorne of Vershire, UVM; Stephen James Usher of Hartland, UVM; Teagan White of Tunbridge, College of the Atlantic; Elizabeth H. Zaroogian of Tunbridge, Columbia College, Chicago.

CORRECTION

The Sharon Academy awarded diplomas to 31 graduating seniors at its commencement Sunday. A headline on an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect number.

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