By Kate Barcellos
POULTNEY — The day was theirs, and even Mother Nature knew it, lending a gently golden sun and valiant blue sky — Blue Devils colors — to the 81st Poultney High School graduation.
Every seat on Dean W. Houghton Memorial Field was filled with family and community Friday evening as 23 graduates stepped in time down the grassy aisleway toward the stage bedecked with sprays of yellow and blue flowers.
Years ago, the students could have made a choice — they could have attended another high school, but they chose Poultney High School.
After Student Council President Kerah Book led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and junior Cameron Wescott sounded a flawless “Star-Spangled Banner” on his trumpet, Principal Joe DeBonis addressed his soon-to-be graduates.
“Rivers never go (in) reverse,” DeBonis said. “Try to live your life like a river and forget the problems of the past, and focus on your future.”
DeBonis, who had known many of the students the better part of 17 years, assured the students that though they might doubt themselves, they possess strength and courage within to overcome whatever obstacles life may present to them, if they can find the will to persevere.
“You see, failure isn’t falling down — it’s remaining where you’ve fallen,” he said. “I am so proud of all of you, and I love you and will miss you after you are gone. Being the smallest class that I’ve had in my 10 years here, you do live up to the motto of being small in size but big in spirit.”
Commencement speaker Dr. Sarah L. Jones is a member of the Class of 2000, an Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiast, and a research astrophysicist at a little organization called NASA.
Jones said she had an affinity for “successful failures,” especially the Mars Climate Orbiter (which burned up in the Martian atmosphere in 1999) and Apollo 13, whose oxygen tank exploded two days after its launch and threatened the lives of the astronauts who were supposed to land on the moon.
“It’s called NASA’s most successful failure, because it took heroic efforts and a lot of good fortune to get the astronauts back safely,” she said.
Jones then spoke of the importance of seeking happiness, which she called defiant joy — after the book written by the internet-famous Chewbacca Mom — in any situation, because it is possible.
She recited passages from the journal of Etty Hillesum, who died while imprisoned at Auschwitz, but never lost her defiance even as she faced torture, depravity and death.
“‘Life is hard, but that is no bad thing,’” Jones read. “‘If one starts by taking one’s own importance seriously, the rest follows.’”
Jones encouraged graduates to take care of themselves and their mental health, because when people are broken, they can be fixed, and seeking repair is the correct thing to do.
“All of this boils down to a process of feeding our hope and feeding our joy,” Jones said. “The darker the world seems around us, the more effort we have to put into feeding our joy. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Health was also a subject in the next speaker’s address, Salutatorian Taylor Jordan.
“I stand before you as a student who has a learning disability,” Jordan said. “The teachers have been here to show me that I could get through it, and even when I didn’t believe in myself, they believed in me. My learning disability did not define me and who I wanted to become.”
She thanked her peers who stood by her through the darkest times, her family who helped inspire her chosen craft — culinary arts — her faith, and her teachers, who never lost faith in her abilities even when she felt like she did.
“Without you all, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” she said.
Valedictorian Madeline Morse urged her classmates to hold tight to their self-identities, and to create their own weather as they walked from the school they all called home into the world that awaited.
Morse then quoted Meredith Grey as she bid a fond farewell to her 22 friends with her carefully chosen closing.
“‘Time flies,’” Morse read. “‘Time waits for no man. Time heals all wounds. All any of us wants is more time. Time to stand up. Time to grow up. Time to let go. Time. This is your time, your life.’”
Afterward, Morse and Jordan were presented with slate clocks hand-crafted by Western Slate and Greenstone Slate to represent their roots wherever they might wander in their futures. Many beaming members of the community took their turns to present scholarships to wish the students well on their journeys, and the Blue Devil athletes were recognized and awarded.
Small though the school may be, the full heart of Poultney shone with hope as the Class of 2018 left their cherished field in flashes of blue and gold.