by Sarah Davin
Graduation gowns are surprisingly uncomfortable to wear outside. They usually come in dark colors, meaning that on that beautiful summer day, these human-enveloping tarps absorb the heat of the sun and hold it close to the human body. Over the course of the long ceremony, as the principal reads through all of the last names, from A to agonizing Z, the cap and gown become slippery with the sensation of sweat running down the body.
With that in mind, I pass on the advice I received from a beloved teacher before my own graduation: First, if you can, bring water. Second, If your gown is a dark color, wear more dark colors underneath as the dye from the gown can wreck any light-colored outfit of colors.
But this preparation for students pales in comparison the schools’, who are essentially throwing the biggest event of the year and must get all its many moving parts in perfect alignment. That’s hard enough to do for 10 people, much less the 800 expected attendees. Plus, Montpelier High School (MHS) has to squeeze it all into a budget of $4,200, which will cover the costs of the diplomas, chair rentals, sound system services, and printing programs
Leading the effort is Valerie Belanger, the administrative assistant and co-senior advisor of MHS. This will be her 19th year planning graduations at the high school, and 87 students will cross the stage to receive diplomas—outdoors on the sports field if the weather permits or indoors in the gym—at MHS on Friday, June 15th, at 5 pm. The ceremony will last until 6:45 pm, granted that the length of graduation depends somewhat on the duration of the speeches and performances.
Indeed, the perfomances are part of what makes a graduation at MHS unique. Unlike a majority of graduations, which feature one guest speaker, MHS’s graduation sees several student speakers and performers, including student musicians and dancers. That’s important to Belanger, who discussed the importance of the students being the main focus of the ceremony. “Our idea around graduation is that it is for the students,” she explains. “Our goal is to make a fun, memorable graduation for them. Having said that, they are the graduation program. They nominate their fellow students to do speeches, perform, or to read poems. It is a night that really represents our student body.”
Before the big day, the school staff has a lot of work to do. A graduation committee is formed. Co-senior advisors Heather McLane, who is also a social studies teacher, and Valerie Belanger meet with the seniors to discuss what they would like to see happen at their graduation. The students nominate their student speakers and performers, and music teachers, Kirk Kreitz, Hilary Goldblatt, and Molly Clark help the students prepare for their performances, with two mandatory rehearsals prior to graduation.
On the day of the graduation, Tom Allen and his custodial crew will be in overdrive, setting up chairs, bleachers, and the music section; arranging the flowers on the stage—many donated from from parents’ gardens—not to mention tackling the immense clean up afterward. (If you wish to donate flowers to decorate the stage this year, please email Valerie Belanger at firstname.lastname@example.org).
The planning doesn’t end with the graduation ceremony itself. In the days leading up to graduation, seniors take part in events like Senior Breakfast, an awards assembly, and a school-wide picnic. After graduation, the seniors will be going on their Project Grad trip—this year to Spare Time Entertainment in Colchester. Once there, seniors can spend the night bowling, getting massages and
henna tattoos, playing laser tag, and watching a hypnotist show, returning home by school bus at 5 am. The school hopes it will be a night to remember.
Belanger thanks the support from parents to make this years Project Grad especially exciting. She said, “The Project Grad committee has been hard at work fundraising, and through the efforts of our community parents made a lot of wonderful donations and support.”
Often, graduation is framed as the last step in a four-year journey through high school. This is true, but it is also the beginning of a new path, whatever it may be, for all the seniors. “They have a lot of talent to share,” reflected Belanger, “and we’ll see some of that talent at graduation.” As these students disperse, hopefully they will fondly remember their time at Montpelier High School.