‘Hard Work and Dedication’: In South Royalton, a Son Shares His Late Father’s Wisdom

  • South Royalton School's graduating seniors file into the town green before the start of the 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    South Royalton School's graduating seniors file into the town green before the start of the 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

  • Salutatorian Alexander Berk finishes speaking during the South Royalton School's 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. In his address, Berk spoke of the influence of his father, Frank Fred Berk, who passed away last year. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Salutatorian Alexander Berk finishes speaking during the South Royalton School's 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. In his address, Berk spoke of the influence of his father, Frank Fred Berk, who passed away last year. (Valley News - Will Parson)

  • South Royalton School's graduating seniors file into the town green before the start of the 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Salutatorian Alexander Berk finishes speaking during the South Royalton School's 120th commencement in South Royalton, Vt., on June 14, 2014. In his address, Berk spoke of the influence of his father, Frank Fred Berk, who passed away last year. (Valley News - Will Parson)

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South Royalton — Before he died at age 61 last June, former Royalton School Board member and town attorney Frank Berk taught his four children not to dwell on losses — of that interview, that job, that soulmate.

“You grieve, then you adjust,” Salutatorian Alex Berk told his 33 fellow graduates and a tent full of relatives, teachers and neighbors at South Royalton High School’s commencement Saturday morning. “Do not live in what could have been.”

The class of 2014 celebrated several mentors with a similar outlook, and even invited one back to recall what was: keynote speaker Jeff Moreno, who during 15 years at South Royalton taught science, coached track and field and basketball, and served as an athletic director and an assistant principal before Hartland Elementary School hired him away as its principal in 2013.

During his year as assistant principal — usually the bad-cop role at a school, especially high school — Moreno recalled, “I parked in the student parking lot, and not once did I come out to find it scratched, or with anything on it. I always knew that there was a respect there, and it was mutual.”

Moreno started building that rapport with this group in fifth and sixth grades.

He described them as “an absolutely gorgeous group of little kids” who grew up to be “pretty hard working” as well as “very bold, very loud, very kind, very unique.”

If sometimes challenging: Take Alex Berk, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a fan of the New York Yankees, and who Moreno said “tested me every day.”

“Once I got (Alex) to swear allegiance to the Red Sox for one day, in return for two points on a work sheet,” Moreno said. “I think your dad just rolled over — sorry, Frank.?

Moreno also reminisced about Emma Honigford’s wizardry in science, the ice-cream-cone cupcakes that valedictorian-to-be Rebecca Paige brought in for birthdays during grades 5 and 6, the knack of Brian Barnard and class president David Ballou for distracting Moreno from the lesson of the day, and Strafford resident Clark Clogston’s conversion to track and field when “he found out there were girls on the team.”

Many in the class, Moreno added, helped put the school and its athletic fields back together after the flooding of the White River and its tributaries during Tropical Storm Irene in late August of 2011.

“It was devastating, but for only a few seconds,” Moreno said of the damage. “We all learned a lesson from that.”

Moreno sent them into their new lives with one more: “Be kind in your lives. Show people that you care. Just smile. Treat people well.

“Go out and be good people.”

Along with that advice, and the wisdom of his late father, Alex Berk promised to take to Tufts University, and whatever comes after, the example that South Royalton baseball coach Mike Ballou set for his players.

“Mike never let us get too high in victory or too low in defeat,” said Berk, who collected eight scholarship envelopes at Saturday’s ceremony. “Hard work and dedication pay off.

“Not every day is going to be your day.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

CLASS OF 2014

Ashley Arnold; David Ballou; Brian Barnard; Sierra Benson; Alexander Berk; Hunter Brock; Clark Clogston; Alexis Cloud; Marguerite Dakin; Joseph DeCoteau; Jade Duggins; Monica Falzo; Matthew Fifield; Kathleen Gauthier; Stephanie Henderson; Emma Honigford; Hayley Hudson; Raven Hudson; Leif Johnson; Skye Lockwood; Emmett Lorette; Corey Lyman; Nathaniel Moore; Dylan Orechovesky; Rebecca Paige; Lucien Pease; Olivia-Belle Phillip; Moriah Post-Kinney; Barbara Timian; Jason Williams; Augustus Wing; Victoria Wissa; Emily Wright; Callie Wuttke.

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