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Four Local Standout Graduates: Then and Now

By Carla Occaso.

Amanda Ibey, Spaulding High School, Class of 2000

Amanda Ibey
Amanda Ibey

Amanda Ibey left childhood—and Vermont—behind as the world entered a new century. She dipped
her toes into international travel, politics and writing. Now she spends her days in Montpelier, but it all started in Barre.
“I had a great, very memorable time at Spaulding. I was all-state in all three sports I played: field hockey, basketball and softball,” Ibey told The Bridge in an e-mail. She was all-state in other ways, too, publishing a short story in “a book featuring high school students throughout Vermont” before she graduated. English and history attracted her attention early on—she especially remembers a writing class with Tom Sedore and a public affairs course with Tom Treece, which she termed “eye-opening.” The class gave her insight into the world beyond Barre.
After graduating, Ibey pursued such interests at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, where she majored in international studies and minored in English. That experience opened doors to travel abroad and contrasted with what Amanda described as a non-diverse, “gentle, almost quiet type of childhood and adolescence” in Barre. “At Muhlenberg, I began to see, sense and experience a bigger world—not necessarily better—just bigger.” She studied in the Netherlands and traveled by train throughout 13 different eastern and western European countries.
Her first “real job” was with the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, where she promoted free-trade policies. The experience taught her to see the other side of the story—in this case a topic she had studied in college, fair trade. She went on to work at the Vermont State House, and then “stumbled” into politics by working as government affairs director for the Home Builders and Remodelers Association. In this role she lobbied, testified and wrote letters to advance the association’s interests. And in doing her job, she noted that Vermonters have uniquely open access to legislators. In contrast to other states, citizens in Vermont can walk right up to lawmakers in the State House hallway or at a restaurant and have a conversation. “Despite the often frustrating nature of politics in general, I still feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of that community and the [political] world for the time that I was,” she stated.
Ibey now finds herself loving her career as a freelance writer in Montpelier. She mostly works on nonfiction pieces with college professors, businesses and nonprofit executives. Her work includes websites, blogs, marketing materials, white papers and brochures. She credits our part of Vermont as showing her what is important in life. “Delighting in a delicious meal, spending time with friends and family, doing work that nourishes my spirit, and in a small way helping others creates a full, rich life,” she said.

Chelsea Katzenberg, U-32 High School, Class of 2004

Cheryl Katzenberg
Cheryl Katzenberg

Out of the boondocks and into the Bronx. That has been one local student’s journey these past ten years. U-32 graduate Chelsea Katzenberg has parlayed her educational experiences in central Vermont into a challenging job as a teacher in a new charter school amid the mean streets of New York City’s South Bronx.
Chelsea looks back lovingly on her time at U-32, saying she “found the teachers to be so supportive and invested in their students’ education.” In an email interview, she said her perspective on education was shaped by comparing U-32 to her school in the Bronx. “Knowing what I now know about education,” she said, has impressed on her “the freedom we had to grow and learn” without being micromanaged.
Katzenberg has long loved sports. She helped the U-32 team win the Division 2 state basketball championship in 2004—which, she said, “was one of the more incredible experiences of my life.” She also tried her hand at sports journalism, covering high-school sports and the Mountaineers, Montpelier’s collegiate-league baseball team, for the Times Argus.
From U-32 she went on to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she majored in English and history. Her four years at Vassar were “wonderful. I feel I was intellectually challenged and encouraged to think critically in a way I never had before.” She continued to play basketball at the upstate New York school, whose team was not very successful, but, she reported, “I had a great time, and more importantly, had teammates who remain some of my closest friends today.”
Katzenberg’s first job after graduating was as an assistant sports information director at Vassar. But before long she shifted gears, enrolling in Columbia University’s School of Education, from which she graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree and a certificate for teaching social studies.
In 2012 she got a job at a school just opening its doors—the New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities. “Being a first-year teacher in a first-year school was an unforgettable experience,” she said. “I will be entering my third year teaching high school Global Studies … this fall, and, although extremely difficult, it is a very rewarding job. It has certainly exposed me to a different educational atmosphere from that which I grew up in!”
Katzenberg lives in Brooklyn but visits Vermont, she says, “whenever possible.”

Mike McMahan, Spaulding High School, Class of 2002

Mike McMahan
Mike McMahan

Mike McMahan hasn’t let his post-high-school success allow him to forget his Barre roots. He’s become a high-powered corporate lawyer in New York City, but, he says, “being from central Vermont has kept me grounded, I think, in situations where it might be easy to forget how the ‘average American’ lives,” he wrote in an email interview.
When reminiscing about his school days at Spaulding, Mike mentions enjoying chemistry and drama. “One of my favorite classes was AP Chemistry with Mr. Burt, which inspired me to enter college as a chemistry major. It didn’t stick of course, but he provided a great education and inspired great interest in me,” Mike recalled. He also mentioned a love for the theater: he played the lead role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady during his senior year in Barre. He appreciated working with the director, now-retired drama coach Ilene Gillander. Attending Spaulding gave him many opportunities to shine.
After graduating from Spaulding as valedictorian, Mike attended the University of Vermont, where he majored in philosophy and minored in political science. He said he chose UVM because of a scholarship, but that he came to love the university and Burlington. “Though clichéd, college was quite literally the best four years of my life,” he stated. He also met his wife at UVM, and he looks back nostalgically on the times they shared there.
After UVM, Mike went on to the New York University School of Law, from which he graduated in 2009. Since then, he has been an associate in the litigation department of DLA Piper LLP, one of the largest law firms in the world. He’s represented many well-known companies, including E*TRADE. While he has worked with many rich and powerful clients, his most memorable client has been the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which manages much of the region’s transportation infrastructure. The case was against a company “who was holding hostage the antenna of 1 World Trade Center,” built on the footprint of the twin towers destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mike said he and his team “filed emergency papers and applied pressure in the legal and public sphere, and were able to resolve the dispute and get the antenna shipped to lower Manhattan. It now caps the building, bringing it to its full and very symbolic height of 1776 feet.
Culturally, Mike’s life as a corporate lawyer has taken him a long way from Barre, but he still remembers what it was like to grow up in the lower-middle class. He said many in Manhattan forget how people can survive on $40,000 or less, but that he will never forget how hard his parents worked to get by. “That background is why I make sure I always treat everyone like a person, whether a cabbie, a barrista (sic), or a waiter,” he wrote. “It may sound strange [that] that would require effort, but you would be surprised how frequently I find people forgetting to do that here.”
Mike currently lives a bit outside New York City, in Waldwick, New Jersey.

Gabriel Shier, Montpelier High School, Class of 2012

Gabriel D Sheir
Gabriel D Shier

What do Montpelier and Saint Petersburg, Russia, have in common? Both cities have offered a home to Gabriel Shier, a 2012 graduate of Montpelier High School who, as a University of Vermont student, is studying in the Russian imperial capital.
At MHS Gabe served as student council vice president for two years and was chosen to be the senior speaker on graduation day. He played football and captained the cross country team in his senior year. He was also a founding member of the ultimate frisbee team—still a popular activity at the school.
Social studies teacher Lyman Castle was Gabe’s favorite teacher “by far,” he writes in an email. Castle is now teaching abroad, according to Gabe, in Jordan, he thinks. Gabe is not alone in his esteem for Castle, who was named “most influential teacher” in 2013 by Julia H. Gilbert, an MHS presidential scholar, according to the United States Department of Education’s website,www.ed.gov.
Fun and games seem to dominate Gabe’s memories of MHS. He says his most memorable experience at the school was getting into an ever-escalating “prank war” with a friend that he believes even the teachers tacitly encouraged—or, rather, failed to discourage. “My time in Montpelier was great besides the usual teenage angst,” Gabe writes. “It’s a very open and accepting school.”
Gabe will be a junior at UVM this fall. He’s majoring in political science with minors in Russian and economics. He describes his well-rounded education this way: “College is still shaping me. I think that I am becoming a more well-defined person than I was in high school.” He is currently studying Russian in Saint Petersburg and plans to continue studying in Moscow during the coming semester. He describes the contrast between those Russian cities and central Vermont as “stark,” adding, “Often times I feel like a country mouse in the city. I felt that I needed the city experience.”
Although Gabe is still a student, he has made a few forays into the working world. His got his first job washing dishes at the Skinny Pancake restaurant in Montpelier. He also worked for three years as a camp counselor at Camp Downer in Sharon, Vermont, where his most memorable experiences, he writes, “can be summed up by blue skies, campfires [and] laughter.”
Gabe expects to move to Moscow in September. He plans to seek work in Russia after college.