Loud cheers and applause greeted the graduates who marched in from two directions at the back of the rink before meeting up at a center aisle and proceeding to the front of the temporary stage. School officials decided to move the ceremonies, typically held on the school's campus, to the rink on Thursday, the day before, when the likelihood of inclement weather became apparent.
In his opening remarks, Headmaster Mark Tashjian urged those attending the ceremony to take advantage of it, noting that with a roof over their heads and an enclosed space, the volume of cheering could get even louder than usual.
"Noise carries, so when you cheer, it's going to sound like something," he told the assembled crowd that filled most of the skating facility. A performance of the Star Spangled Banner on oboe by Yanming Wang, one of the school's international students, and a reading of a poem written by Amanda Clark, a Burr and Burton alumna from 2001, by Betsy Hubner, an art teacher at the school who is retiring after 25 years at the school opened the ceremonies. Then Seth Bongartz, the chairman of Burr and Burton's board of trustees, welcomed the graduates and the audience.
He noted the progress BBA is making, citing the recent acquisition of 20 additional acres adjoining the campus, along with a new program that will equip each student with an iPad tablet computer, and the successful completion of the first year of the new Mountain Campus program. But he also stressed the role of tradition at the school, founded in 1829,
"As you seniors pass through graduation, you become part of the continuum of what will next year be 185 years of Burr and Burton," he said. "Every class is a part of Burr and Burton forever. You never truly leave."
The graduates then heard from their class salutatorian, Sarah Baum, who will be attending Barnard College in New York City next fall. She encouraged her fellow classmates to cherish this moment, and not be in a rush to just make it through the ceremonies to move on to the next thing. The process of getting there was just as important, she said.
"Even if we get there first, what are we really accomplishing?" she asked. Success was sometimes more likely to involve the ability to recognize opportunity, and to be able to wait for those moments, she added.
Baum's salutatory address was followed by one by class valedictorian, Brittany Parker.
She used the hilly campus of Burr and Burton, along with the occasional camping and hiking trips she found herself on, as metaphors for trying hard to overcome obstacles.
"Once you start something, you have to finish it successfully," she said. "Motivation comes in strange forms... like a desire to succeed." But after overcoming certain things that seemed like obstacles, she realized she could accomplish things she didn't realize she could, she said in conclusion.
Parker represented the fourth generation in her family to have graduated from Burr and Burton. She will be attending Middlebury College next fall. Each year, students of the graduating class select a faculty member to give a speech at graduation, and this year, they chose Cory Herrington, the associate dean of students, who is also a teacher and a coach of the boys ice hockey team. He began by noting he was envious of class for being able to graduate from a rink where ice hockey was played.
He encouraged the students to bear five things in mind as they went forward into life beyond Burr and Burton - tenacity, a focus on the "journey," keeping a sense of humor, remembering friends, family and community and being leery of making quick decisions.
"Think things through," he urged the graduates. "Substance, and acts of integrity, (are) more important than instant gratification or the size of your bank account."
Maisie Wright, a member of Burr and Burton's class of 2001, delivered the main commencement address. She is the school director of the KIPP Blytheville College Preparatory School in Blytheville, Ark., a charter school in an area of the country where the percentage of students who attend college after high school is relatively small, she said early in her speech.
Her voice nearly breaking at one point, she described how her definition of "hard" changed when she started her teaching career. She described working with one seventh grade student who had struggled in math, and she made him stay late frequently to help him boost his proficiency. By the end of the year, he thanked her for her efforts, and through that experience, she gained a deeper understanding of gratitude. Many of her students came from difficult backgrounds but still tried to persevere to obtain the credentials to better themselves, she said.
"No matter what your idea of hard is, I guarantee it will change. I almost guarantee you will fail at something. At those moments, as hard as they are, we have a choice. At those moments, we must choose gratitude. By appreciating the world around us, we more deeply appreciate ourselves."