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Oxbow Seniors Rip It Up

Saturday, June 13, 2015
Bradford, Vt. — As social studies teacher Andrew Chobanian addressed Oxbow Union High School’s 74 graduates donning purple and white Friday night, he looked toward a framed photo in the front row, resting on the 75th seat.

It showed Sean Tillotson, an admired member of the Class of 2015 who died unexpectedly at an airport in Colorado last June due to a medical issue.

“You understand life is fragile,” Chobanian told the class, encouraging graduates to pursue paths of meaning and compassion. “Let Sean’s death not be in vain.”

Tillotson, who was active in sports and other activities and was set to be the school’s vice president of its National Honors Society chapter this year, was honored several times throughout Oxbow’s 44th annual commencement in the muggy school gymnasium, set against the constant flutter of folks fanning themselves with paper programs.

Speakers also recognized the class’s dedication to community service, and the class president pulled a fast one on administrators, swapping out a pre-approved speech for one that satirically suggested an overabundance of homework was driving students to coffee addictions and, eventually, cocaine.

“It makes an F feel like an A,” Chase Andrews said, moments after holding up the pre-approved speech and tearing it in half.

Reactions ranged from laughter to nervous giggles to head-shaking. At one point, an administrator held her forehead in her hand.

Andrews told the crowd that he respected everyone in the room but that his class “deserves a speech to be remembered,” and he closed by saying “not everything has to be serious.”

“Have fun, but be successful,” he said.

Valedictorian Rachel Lemay spoke about the decisions facing graduates, alluding to scenes from the 2009 film Mr. Nobody.

The protagonist, faced with a difficult decision in the opening scene, could see how either choice would play out far into the future, but the Oxbow graduates aren’t afforded that luxury, Lemay said.

“We must make our own path and choose the unexpected,” she said. “We must choose a life of passion over any alternative.”

Chobanian, chosen by students as the commencement speaker, spoke about how Tillotson’s death “changed everybody” at the school and how he worried about them at the start of this school year — but was inspired to see them “begin to build,” including raising more than $8,000 for scholarships in Tillotson’s name.

Indeed, Tillotson’s parents handed out two of the $1,000 awards to students Friday night, with the remainder saved to fund awards for several school years to come.

After students moved their tassels from right to left at 7:40 p.m., several stopped on their way out of the gymnasium to hug the Tillotsons, and parents and others gathered around them afterward.

“He’s been honored so many times in the past year,” Gary Tillotson said, his eyes glossy. “It’s hard to count them all.”

In the cool air outside, salutatorian Daniel Jones, who played lacrosse with Tillotson, said it was important to his class to honor their friend and classmate.

“It was a different year than it was supposed to be, or ... different than what we expected,” he said.

When asked what he’ll remember about graduation, Jones said Andrews’ speech was “definitely very interesting.”

At certain points, he looked around and noticed “the audience wasn’t laughing,” Jones said. “But his classmates were.”

Chase Matthew Andrews; Wayne L. Beede III; Brandon Robert Benoit; Jenna Rae Bingham; Kayla C. Bothwell; Shaelyn Autumn Brammell; Morgan Leigh Brill; Hunter James Bruleigh; Noah Raymond Burridge; Kelsie Lynn Chaffee; Dustin Ray Chicoine; Jeremy Robert Daigle; Henry Craven DeRusha; Franklin Donald Downing; Dustin Lee Doyle; Samantha Beth Fandino; Joshua Tyler Findley; Jordan Jeffrey Fornwalt; Ellis Paul Fredella; Madison Lee Douglas French; Miles Andrew Garone; Keisha Marie Garrow; Trevor D Garvin; Anthony James Giesing; Nicholas Allen Glaude; Carter Paul Goodell; Lindsay Marie Grant; Paige Elaine Gray; Dylan Daniel Green; Dakota Rayne Hadley; Alex Michael Hudson; Ethan Wilber Huntley.

Daniel Kevin Jones; Maximalian Ryan Judas; Jessica Marie Kawalec; Joshua Manning Kearney; Nicole Elizabeth King; Jacob Allen Knapp; Skylar Sue Kroll; Rachel Allyson Lemay; Mitchell Robert Magoon; Amelia Marie McIntire; Sydney Ann McIntire; Breanna Lynn Meyette; Alexander L Miller; Patrick Scott Morrison; Christina Marie Nanopoulos; Dimitri Cole Nanopoulos; Hunter Earle Page; Tiffani Cheyenne Paye; Caleigh Lynn Peterson; Cooper David Pierson; Michael Charles Plante Jr.

Shelby Anne Rosten; Clifford Lawrence Rudder II; Chloe Elizabeth Salls; Colin Emanuel Serra; Madison Elizabeth Smith; Nathan Leon Smith; Abigail Irene Speck; Jamie Michael St. Martin; Kathleen M Stevens-Metcalf; Blake Sweet; Jessie Mae Sylvester; Kristena Louise Taylor; Isaiah John Taylor; Allen George Thompson; Matthew David Thomson; Jami Anne Tuttle; Alexandra Rae Valley; Allan Connor Wheeler; Amanda Moore Wheeler; Matthew David Wilds; Brian Robert Zambon.

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