By Kate Barcellos
The gymnasium at West Rutland High School was packed with people Friday evening, with most donning the school’s signature shades of yellow and emerald green.
Every one of West Rutland High School’s 23 seniors had completed their courses, done their due diligence and earned the right to walk across the same stage so many had before them.
The 123rd graduation ceremony had finally arrived.
The 13-piece school band, a talented collection of saxophones, trumpets, percussion and electric guitars, welcomed the graduates-to-be. The proud young women strode in wearing bright gold caps and gowns, accented by young men in deep green, all with lemon-colored corsages pinned to their chests.
Departing principal Sarah Merrill spent the majority of her welcoming address listing off the highlights and achievements of the class of 2018, a cornucopia of proud moments.
“Sixteen of them are attending seven different colleges,” Merrill said. “The closest college is in Castleton, Vermont, and the farthest college is in Ave Maria, Florida.”
Merrill said 52 percent of the class completed a college course, with 26 percent entering the workforce, and three students having successful hunting expeditions this past year, each proud moments for the West Side administration.
“How much financial support will our amazing graduates receive tonight from local and state scholarships only?” Merrill said. “Approximately $125,000 with $113,000 from local organizations alone.”
Next to ascend the podium was Salutatorian Hunter Charles Hayes, who echoed his principal with a host of statistics, before expressing his gratitude to the community.
“We are a small community in a small town,” Hayes said. “Everyone says they cannot wait to get out of here, but few ever do. That is because everyone loves it here. The atmosphere of the community and the connection to the school are some of the few things that brings people in and what also keeps them here.”
Valedictorian Maddison Emilee McGuinness cited the West Rutland community as being the “village” that raised her.
“The students of West Rutland are truly blessed with such a benevolent community,” she began. “The African proverb states that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ I have learned it does take a village, and all of my family, my friends, my teachers, my school and my community, are my village.”
From her village, McGuinness said she learned to embrace her shortcomings and encouraged her peers to do the same.
“I’ve come to realize we are not defined by our failures. Embrace your failures. Learn from them and don’t get discouraged,” she said.
The commencement address came next, delivered by English teacher Kari Maughan, who thanked the students for supporting all of her ideas and remaining engaged and thoughtful.
“Try to learn some practical skills,” she advised. “Try to learn from older generations … Make your life your instrument. Don’t just sit back and let other people do things.”
But above all, Maughan assured her soon-to-be former students that they would fondly remember their time at their beloved K-12 school, and the lessons would remain with them as they forged ahead and created new and exciting lives.
“What you all have learned here in West Rutland is going to take you so far,” she promised.
Twenty-five scholarship programs presented hundreds of thousands of dollars to the graduates to support them as they ventured outside of the community that had cherished them, which included contributions from the Italian American Club, the VSAC Vermont Honor Scholarship and the Rutland Area Medical Community Scholarship.
The time had come at last: a rousing rendition of One Republic’s “I lived” heralded the reading of names, pausing as each student was announced, and with the presentation of a well-earned certificate, suddenly became a graduate.
“In the words of one of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, ‘We reward those who draw the maps, not those who follow them,’” Principal Merrill said. “Get out there and go!”
And go they did, armed with the integrity and conviction of a tiny village with a big heart.