Breaking Through Barriers

Hartford Seniors Show Range

  • Hartford High School graduation in Hartford, Vermont on Friday, June 10, 2016. Copyright 2016 Rob Strong

  • Hartford High School graduation in Hartford, Vermont on Friday, June 10, 2016. Copyright 2016 Rob Strong

  • Class of 2016 President Victoria Stevenson speaks at the Hartford High School graduation in Hartford, Vermont on Friday, June 10, 2016. Copyright 2016 Rob Strong

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hartford — Three white-robed girls took turns at the podium, each one speaking into the microphone, facing the hundreds who had gathered on the lawn outside Hartford High School Friday evening to honor its graduating class.

The first, aspiring filmmaker and class salutatorian Christine Miller, was introduced by Principal Joe Collea, who quoted staff as saying that “her academic transcript speaks for itself. She has earned straight As throughout high school and taken pretty much every advanced AP course we offer at Hartford High. She is as strong in music and arts as she is in AP calculus.”

Collea noted that the second speaker, valedictorian and performing arts whiz Megan Fariel, was “one accomplished young woman,” who had stacked up, among other honors, the Dartmouth Book Award, National Honors Society membership, and a National Merit Scholarship letter of commendation for her junior PSAT scores.

The third speaker was Victoria Stevenson. About 20 minutes earlier, just before taking her place at the front of the column of her classmates, Stevenson had offered a nervous grin.

“I’m terrified to give a speech,” she said. “I hate public speaking. I can barely write.”

Unlike Miller and Fariel, Stevenson, who was elected class president by her peers, has struggled in the classroom.

“Academically, I’ve kind of lost it,” she said. Though there are some classes she excels in, “I got Cs and Ds, even Fs.”

She traces her troubles to a specific soccer game in her sophomore year, when she was the lone defender against two breakaway players from the opposing team. Stevenson turned her head just as the player with the ball took a hard shot at the goal, blasting her in the side of the head with the soccer ball.

Not until later that day, when the world seemed to be going in slow motion, did she realize there was something seriously wrong. Doctors diagnosed her with post-concussive syndrome. Stevenson, who at that time earned mostly As and Bs in the classroom, stayed home from school for a week. The first day she came back, she didn’t last five minutes.

“I would get horrible headaches,” she said. “I couldn’t focus. I had short-term memory loss. I was really dizzy.”

She was out of school for a month. When she started to come back, she often felt a piercing pain in her head, and had to leave class. Ultimately, she wound up withdrawing from all four classes that semester.

“A bunch of people thought I wouldn’t be graduating with my class,” she said.

The three students’ backgrounds were reflected in their speeches.

Miller, who has earned some of the highest merit scholarships from her chosen college, Rochester Institute of Technology, used an anecdote about the frustrations of her morning commute to springboard into a life lesson about appreciating the moment.

“Everyone knows the saying you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” she said. “I finally have an understanding of what that means. … Sometimes we spend too much time looking forward, and not enough time enjoying the here and now.”

Fariel, who is bound for the University of Vermont, spoke with a performer’s ease and poise, shifting between comedy and earnestness.

“We’ve broken through countless glass ceilings, and even through one glass hallway,” she said, drawing knowing laughs from her peers.

“In physics terms,” Fariel said, “time is often defined as change, or an interval of change, or the rate of change of matter. So one could elaborate on that, and say that we change our school as we put time into it. And also, as time passes, we change. … If we put our time into things that bring us meaning, like service, career, family or education, we will see the most change in ourselves as well as in the communities around us.”

Then Stevenson took the stage, her black boots poking out from the bottom of her graduation robe, sporting large earrings made out of porcupine quills and turquoise by First Nations people in Canada.

“Now, the truth is,” she said, “I am the worst at getting words on paper, so it’s a miracle I have a speech to give today. … I figured since I’m not a very traditional person, I wouldn’t give a super traditional speech.”

Stevenson on stage sounded exactly like Stevenson off stage — laughing, self-effacing, and enjoying the moment. In much of what she says and does, there is an element of happy absurdity.

It was clear from the belly laughs of the students in her class that people love her.

She told them to live a life of adventure.

“It could mean adopting a new pet, taking a risk at work, or reaching out to someone new, perhaps someone in need of a friend,” she said. “And you never know, they might end up being someone you never see or hear from again, become your closest friend, the love of your life, or even a serial killer.”

She closed with a reference to her own concussion.

“It’s been a wonderful journey that I’ve even managed to remember parts of,” she said, “so congrats, good luck, and live adventurously.”

Stevenson’s plans show that her actions match her words.

This fall, she’s volunteering at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, an opportunity she hopes will help her toward a career in helping wild and endangered animals.

“It’s pretty sick,” she said. “I’ll be sleeping in a hammock, trekking through the jungle.”

Collea said that Stevenson was an example of overcoming pain and disappointment through perseverance and determination.

Also speaking at the graduation was Superintendent Tom DeBalsi, who said that the graduation was a critical time of transition for the graduating class.

“We hand out diplomas, but the definition of commencement is the beginning of something,” he said.

The final speaker was Saundra Capron Maisey, from the class of ‘66 who urged students to pursue the health benefits of laughter, which she said could improve heart health and boost the body’s ability to fight infection.

“Always keep laughing,” she said.

School Board Chairwoman Lori Dickerson, and School Board member Kevin Christie each presented awards to a series of students who had distinguished themselves academically.

Hartford High Class of 2016

Julia Anderson, Pennsylvania State University; Alexis Atkinson, Utica College; Tyler Avery; Amber Bailey, Johnson State; Adam Barber, Air Force; Austin Barber, Air Force; Evan Barr; Jason Bielecki, Castleton University; David Bomhower, work; Ryan Bonner; Hunter Brooks; Joshua Butterfield, Vermont Technical College; Zachary Caron; Rowan Chaboyer, St. Francis Xavier University; Brandon Chiasson, Southern New Hampshire University; Wyatt Connor, Westminster College; Thomas Cooley, Vermont Technical College; Michael Cross; Eileen Curley, University of South Florida; Richard Daigle; Kristen Davis, University of Rhode Island; Brandon Dole; Darren Downing, work; Frank Ducharme; Lillian Duda, gap year; Cameron Durkee; Samuel Dwyer, University of Utah; Olivia Dyke, work; Mateo Ellerson; Alex Emmond; Megan Fariel, University of Vermont; Kelsey Fogg, Johnson State; Emily Fortier; Morgan Furlong, Tulane University; Brandon Gaudet, Curry College; Daniel-James Giguere, work/National Guard; Brandon Gile; Colin Gillespie, River Valley Community College; Cody Gokey, work; Anna Gombar, Franklin & Marshall College; Joseph Gonthier; Aaron Grant; Elizabeth Greenan, Saint Anselm College; Jacob Grover, Community College of Vermont; Shanan Hamilton, Saint Mary’s College; Megan Hayes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Levi Hazen, Vermont Technical College; Winter Hoisington, Coast Guard; Morgan Horne-Allen; Rebekka Hunt, Johnson State; Alexis Johnson; Jessica Johnson; Walkker Judd, work; Christopher Kearney, Marines; Paige Kehoe, Wheaton College; Mitchell Kelly, Belmont University; Kaylee Kempton; Gina Kersey, Rochester Institure of Technology; Carolin Knight, University of Florida; James LaFountaine, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Kayla Lancor, University of Connecticut; Bryce Landon, Virginia Tech; Nathan Lemieux, James Madison University; Amanda Locke, University of Vermont; McKenzie Love; Dakota Lyman; Christopher MacBain; Solomon Manthena, Boston University; Emma Marcou, Johnson State; Marlene Marcou; Jocelyn Martin, Colby-Sawyer College; Kelsey Mason, University of New England; Olivia Mattern; William Mayfield; Shannon McHugh, Plymouth State; Teighan Meeker, work. Christine Miller, Rochester Institute of Technology; Nakaya Mitchell, New England School Hair Design; Slade Moodie; Noah Morse, work; Amanda Nelson; Megan Newton, Charleston Southern University; Dang Nguyen; Cassandra North, Roger Williams University; Mykayla O’Brien; Chace Olmstead; Aurora Paquette; Lydia Pecor; Jacob Perkins; Justin Pero, Ithaca College; Matthew Phipps, Grinnell College; Logan Potter; Tanner Potter, Paul Smith’s College; Emma Prime, University of Tampa; Shayla Prior, University of Maine; Trentin Putnam; Sean Rielly, work; Kasey Robinson; Kristen Robinson; Sarah Rousse, UVM; Christopher Rowlee; Emily Ruffing; Piyanat Saeng-em; Ryan Sanderson; Ethan Scribner, George Washington University; Rachel Seaver, College of Charleston; Ashazi Shakur; Benjamin Shatney, military; Adam Shepherd; Nathanael Shields; Kaitlyn Shinn, School of Visual Arts; Gavin Shropshire, Florida Institute of Technology; Kayley Sicely: Keaton Simmons, Hofstra University; Brooke Smith; Codi Smith; Jessica Smith, CCV; Kassady Smith; George Spearing, Vermont Technical College; Victoria Stevenson, gap year; Sarahann Sullivan; Dominic Terino, University of New Hampshire; Jay Tillson; Robert Varela; Berklee College of Music; Nathaniel Walz; Nichole Wardwell, Wentworth Institute of Technology; Stephen Washington, Americorps; Patrick Whitcomb; Gabrielle Williams, Johnson State; Bryce Willis, Lasell College; Jakob Willoughby, work; Amber Wilson, VTC.