OV graduation: ‘We won’t back down’

Otter Valley graduates and couple Brandi Leno (left) and Zachary Bruce share a moment as they are hugged by a friend following grauduation at Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon on Saturday. (Photo by Jon Olender)

By Patrick McArdle
Staff Writer

BRANDON — The 75 members of Otter Valley Union High School’s Class of 2018 got a bleak warning from their valedictorian, but he quickly followed it with an optimistic prediction.

Maxwell Williams said he had hoped to make his speech “something more honest” than “cheesy clichés.”

“The truth is, we’re coming into the real world at a hard time,” he said. “A world where there is a constant threat of nuclear war. A world filled with the fear of terrorists around every corner. A world (rife) with inequalities, with prejudice, with people who refuse to see the world through others’ eyes. A world where our president has been said to slander anyone he wants to. A world where women are sexually harassed. A world where every other week, there is a school shooting. It’s a hard world to live in.”

But, Williams said, it was the world that was being passed to him and his peers.

“I know that we won’t back down,” he said. “We will be the generation to fight against the injustices, to put an end to world violence, to bring about the change that is needed in this world.”

Saturday morning’s graduation took place in the high school gymnasium. Unlike many graduations, there were no guest or faculty speakers, and the focus was kept on the students, whose history, accomplishments and future were presented though a slideshow set to popular music.

Salutatorian Gabriela Poalino, who was also student council president, talked about the diverse accomplishments of her class, which she said included being artists, scientists and leaders, as well as championship athletes and award-winning actors.

“When we were younger, our dreams were to be police officers, veterinarians, firefighters, and I’m sure there were a few of us out there that wanted to be princesses. Although not all of us can be princesses, I hope you continue to believe in your dreams and chase them into the future,” she said.

“You’ve all given me memories to last a lifetime, and through the trials and triumphs, I wouldn’t have wanted to share these past four years with anyone else,” she said. “You’ve all helped me turn a school into a home, and for that, I want to thank you.”

After the graduation, students left the gymnasium to share hugs with families and fellow students, pose for photos and regard their high school for the last time as students.

Michael Daly will go to University of Vermont to study science, although he hasn’t chosen a major yet. He was very upbeat about graduation day.

“I’m kind of glad that I’m over high school to be honest, and I’m just happy,” he said.

Now that she’s finished high school, Courtney Lee said she’s looking for a job.

She said what she will miss most about Otter Valley is the people, and specifically, the teachers.

Christa Wood, who will go to Castleton University in the fall to study nursing, was surrounded by proud family members after the ceremony.

“(At Otter Valley) I made a lot of great friends and played softball,” she said.

Holding her graduation cap, which was decorated with scenes from the NBC sitcom, “The Office,” Wood said Otter Valley courses helped guide her toward the decision to become a nurse. She said she especially valued a class that taught young people how to handle their personal finances.

Another standout graduation cap was worn by Joseph Miner, class president. The art, which Miner said he created himself, made the graduation cap look like it was a playbill, the program that’s handed out at Broadway shows.

Miner will go to Boston University to study medicine.

“Theater was a huge part of my experience here,” he said. “It really shaped me, and I wanted to do something to honor that.”