Graduation Day

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(Host) Like many towns across the state, Thetford has had a hard time passing a school budget this year, but Commentator Joe Deffner says that for a couple of hours today all the debates will be set aside.

(Deffner) It’s graduation day in Thetford and half of the town will gather on the freshly mowed lawn in front of the white Academy Building. Vast bouquets of flowers donated by the local greenhouses just have a way of showing up.

When the school bell begins to sway in the cupola high above them, moms and dads will take their seats and watch sons and daughters file down the steps. Boys in blue and girls in white will follow the melody of pomp and circumstance down the slope of the lawn and take their places on the risers facing the crowd, the sweep of Mt Mousilauke and Smarts Mountain across the Connecticut River behind them.

The setting for Thetford’s celebration is spectacular, but so is its history. Founded in 1819 by Reverend Asa Burton, Thetford Academy is Vermont’s oldest secondary school.

Since Reverend Burton wanted his daughters to get an education, the school was the first coeducational one in the state.

Justin Morrill, who gave this nation its system of land grant colleges and universities, attended TA. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Toms Cabin, sent her son to Thetford.

Henry P. Montgomery, an African-American, came to Thetford at the close of the Civil War. He graduated from the Academy, became a teacher in Thetford, and later, along with his brother, founded a school system for black children in Washington, D.C.

We’ve also had war heroes, and one of them, Ruth Sargent Fifield, received her diploma in an all school assembly earlier this year. She had left school in 1943 to join the Women’s Air Corps. Sixty years later, our students gave her a standing ovation.

Every town in Vermont has a legacy of heroes like this, ordinary people who go on to do extraordinary things. And that’s why graduation is still the biggest event of the year, evident in the fact that every club, association and many families have a scholarship to present.

That means scholarships from the Snow Coasters, the Post Mills Ladies Benefit Society, and the family of Gram Paige, a beloved town mother. These scholarships have a monetary value, but the greater value is what they say to the recipients: We believe in you and here’s something to get you started.

Following scholarships, it’s time for the main event: diplomas. At this point in the ceremony one realizes that graduation is really about family. And every family believes that their graduate can do anything.

As the graduates, some in suits and some in work boots, shake the principal’s hand, their cheering sections respond, some clapping politely, others screaming with excitement and a few with relief.

I won’t be speaking at graduation. In Thetford, there are no adult speakers – the graduates speak to us. But if I were, the message would be this: You come from a town and a state where ordinary people have made history. Now it’s your turn. Make history.

This is Joe Deffner from Union Village.

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