Burr and Burton Academy graduates urged to find 'a life's work'

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MANCHESTER — Even Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged there was no way he could follow up the address given by retiring science teacher David Curtis at Burr and Burton Academy's 184th annual commencement exercises on Friday, June 9 at Riley Rink.

Scott was warmly received by BBA seniors, faculty, parents and loved ones in attendance to witness the Class of 2017 receiving diplomas. In his remarks, he advised the graduating seniors to take risks, to never settle, and to treat others with respect — including, on social media, to "tweet others as you wish to be tweeted." He received a standing ovation.

But Curtis, the retiring science department chair at BBA, simply could not be topped, or stopped.

He delivered a rousing address, at one point singing a passage from the Bruce Springsteen song "No Surrender" and exhorting the 180 graduating seniors to not only experience the richness of life, but to create their own richness as well.

After laying out what he wanted to do with his retirement, such as taking his grandsons to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, building his wife cherry heirloom furniture and completing his hike of the Long Trail, he reminded graduates that life is precious.

"There is more to a rich life than experiences. That is being a consumer of life. You need to be a producer," Curtis said. "To challenge yourself to enrich your life you need a focus, a life's work."

"Follow your passion. We are looking for greatness here," Curtis said in a booming voice that didn't want for a microphone. "You won't just stumble upon that. You don't find that excellence that will enrich your life, enrich the life of others and earn your respect from others who share your calling. That has to be forged, hewn."

Ahead of his remarks, Scott told Curtis he would speak first the next time they're both in the same building.

"When a teacher's reputation for passion and dedication reaches the ear of the governor, you know just how important that teacher is to their students," he said.

Scott related how his own life plans evolved from his initial goal of becoming an industrial arts teacher and led him into business, and then to the Statehouse.

"My path wasn't straight, and it wasn't always easy. Yours won't be either," Scott said.

"Along the way, you're going to take some classes or a job that you won't love. At times, you'll be apprehensive and not quite sure you've got what it takes. You might think there's someone more capable and you could even want to give up after life throws you a curve," Scott said.

"Here's the thing. If you promise yourself you'll never settle, never give up when things get tough, you will find your way, and most importantly, you'll find fulfillment."

Following a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed on cello by graduating senior Ramsay Eyre and opening remarks from headmaster Mark Tashjian and board of trustees chairman Seth Bongartz, Class of 2017 salutatorian Rebekah Hamblett and valedictorian Olivia Kuk addressed their peers, teachers and parents.

Hamblett spoke of the rewards of serving others and not letting personal desires get in the way of larger goals. For example, despite sharing five courses this school year with Kuk, the two of them never let comparison of grades and test scores become a wedge in their close friendship.

Hamblett also related an experience on a recent trip to Haiti, where a community of women helping each other with the laundry explained that was simply how they did things.

"Serving one another is an integral part of how they live," Hamblett said. "This experience reinforced a lesson I had been learning throughout my high school career: That life is so much more worthwhile when it's not all about you."

Kuk said she and her classmates will be moving on to new lives in which, as was the case when they were high school freshmen, they will once more be unsure of themselves and where they belong. But four years of BBA have prepared them for the challenges ahead.

"People often say that knowledge is power. But I believe that knowledge is also comfort. It's having the understanding, the skills and the information to be sure that we can be successful," she said.

"Consider what you already know and embrace what you don't. Look at the unknown as an opportunity to grow our basic knowledge. Learn all that you can for as long as you can, not only from school but also for life," she said.

Curtis and BBA facilities employee Joel Secoy, a 2004 graduate, were chosen by the senior class as speakers and shared the podium.

Secoy recalled how the graduating class entered BBA as freshmen, "heads down, not knowing this strange new place."

"But look at these young adults now, not children anymore," he said. "Look at how they hold their heads high with Burr and Burton pride and pride for themselves."

Secoy's advice to the seniors was to save their money and work for goals and dreams beyond the immediate. "Up until I was 29 I worked my fingers to the bone; all I got was boney fingers. I had nothing because I saved nothing," he said. "Hard work is worthless unless you have a dream and you save for your dream."

He added, "Every day is a new page of a book. If you don't like the story you are writing, close the book and start over. This is your time. You hold the pen."

Reach Journal editor  Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.


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