“What a beautiful day for a graduation,” Principal Lisa Atwood said to hundreds of friends and family members at the 2019 Harwood Union High School commencement on Saturday.
All told, 115 graduates and the throng of well-wishers huddled beneath an event tent that, with spotless blues skies overhead, was completely unnecessary. While it is better to be safe than sorry, this was Goldilocks weather, and the (eventual) spring was highlighted by the stunning arrangements from Vee’s Flowers and Garden Shop and Proud Flower.
Atwood congratulated the graduates — the last graduating class to receive letter grades rather than a stamp of proficiency — and also recognized the parents and guardians who helped get them there.
“All of you had a profound impact on these graduates, and everyone knows their accomplishments are your accomplishments,” she said.
The ceremony included a musical interlude in the form of the song “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House, the second-greatest New Zealand export after Peter Jackson, as performed by I Cantori and the Class of 2019 Chorus, with direction by Stephanie Weigand.
Saying, “Luckily for me, I got to spend two years with him,” graduating senior Will Lapointe introduced commencement speaker Dan Morse, a longtime English teacher at Harwood.
With a past that includes stints in real estate and as a stand-up comedian in Boston, Morse shared his thoughts on what is important in life — family, spirituality and financial stability. The first offers support; the second offers strength; the third offers the means to achieve one’s dreams.
Morse also jokingly lamented the demise of letter grades for students.
“I’m really going to miss that. No proficient for you!” he said.
He also suggested that graduates not wait to start their families.
“I’m just trying to address the low enrollment, so I have students to retire on,” Morse said.
In 2018, the high school had 131 graduates, 16 more than this year.
He also advised students to remember where they came from.
“Stay connected with this place,” Morse said. “Even if you go away and are a success, remember the people who helped you get there when it’s time to give back.”
Morse closed with a quote from author, civil rights activist and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Maya Angelou.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” he said.
Orielle Koliba presented the class gift — a donation to Therapy Dogs of Vermont, which brought in dogs to comfort students in the days following a crash that killed five teenagers — four of them Harwood students — in 2016.
“After the crash, they were there to comfort us,” she said.
Eleanor Reilly, one of three senior speakers, alluded to the challenges students faced following the crash.
“Sophomore year, we learned a lot of things that weren’t on the curriculum,” Reilly said, while noting the many challenges lying ahead. “I have a sinking feeling that, as hard as high school was, it’s going to get a whole lot harder from here.”
Rex Rubenstein thanked teachers and staff for naming him class valedictorian, before Principal Atwood jumped up to tell him he was not.
“You can go far in life if you follow these three rules — perseverance, passion and charm. Here I am, a speaker, even though I’m not valedictorian!” Rubenstein said, before dropping into an impression of Joey from “Friends” and asking the audience, “How you doing?”
Duncan Weinman drew cheers from fellow graduates when he noted his class was the first at Harwood to win Spirit Week four years in a row, and he closed with an inspirational quote from President Theodore Roosevelt.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly.”
And with the changing of the tassels, the 2019 Harwood graduating class went forth to strive valiantly.