The Saint Michael’s College Ross Sports Center was awash in a sea of baby blue Friday, as about 200 robe-clad South Burlington High School (SBHS) seniors accepted their diplomas. Families and friends sat in the bleachers, smiles on their faces and, in some cases, tears in their eyes. 

After graduates processed to their seats, School Board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald took the stage to welcome them and their families. 

“What you do next, whether it’s going to college, serving this country in the military, starting careers or engaging in the world in other ways, that is your choice,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s our hope ... you’ll represent our city, our school, your families and teachers, and most importantly, yourselves, with the same pride we have in you today.”

Senior and summa cum laude honors recipient Kailey Yang then gave a welcome speech. She noted the many achievements of her classmates from athletics, to art, activism and even a peer’s run for state senator. She praised them for their work and perseverance, encouraging them to maintain that spirit as they dispersed from SBHS.

“Never be timid or let others stop you from doing the things that you love and reaching the goals that you want to achieve,” Yang said, adding her classmates’ next chapters would be full of new relationships. “As you meet new people and explore the world, don’t forget to trust yourself. Stay true to who you are and what you believe.”

The class of 2019 completed hundreds of hours of community service, campaigned successfully to raise the Black Lives Matter flag and won the school’s talent night several times during its time at SBHS. 

Summa cum laude honors recipient, Ann Wong, gave the “Senior Scholar Message.” During her address, she spoke to the disproportion between the class’s size and its feats. 

“Despite being the smallest class, we have achieved more than imaginable,” she said, adding not only did they achieve notable change, but also bonded through the experience. 

Wong thanked the SBHS community for helping her gain self-confidence. Her teachers’ and peers’ smiles and encouragement through the years helped her greatly, she said. 

Guest speaker and science teacher Theresa Akerley gave a vibrant speech in which she encouraged graduates and audience members to make some noise.

“You have the ability to impact positive change in ways that you cannot imagine,” Akerley told the class. She cited some benefits of a high school degree, but reminded students that life isn’t about the destination, or a grade, but rather about what they learn and how they apply it. 

As for life’s inevitable challenges, Akerley told students it was “OK not to be OK” and advised them to follow her grandmother’s motto of “onward and upward.”

“Your smile is the best success rate you own,” she added. 

Akerley closed by encouraging students to surround themselves with a diverse “pack” of individuals who could help them see a variety of perspectives. 

“Make sure you have people on your journey who can encourage you in the most fragile of moments to stand tall and remind you that your maximum potential, is still and will always be, a work in progress,” she said. “It would also be beneficial if they helped you laugh more.”

The ceremony progressed with recognition for Big Picture alternative learning program graduates, National Honor Society members and Service and Leadership award recipients. Then awards and scholarships were bestowed upon students. Finally, the graduates strode across the stage, many beaming as they accepted their degrees. 

“No matter where life takes you, we have to keep moving forward,” summa cum laude honors recipient and closing speaker Kenneth Bertrand said. He later instructed his classmates to turn their tassels. As the graduates recessed, the school band played “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” then “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The Other Paper caught up with Sabrina Redzic, one of the graduates, outside the venue. “

It’s such a rush,” she said, sharing her excitement over the achievement. She’ll be headed to the University of Vermont to study biology, where she’ll be surrounded by many of her former SBHS classmates. And though she won’t have all of them near, Redzic said she’ll remember the group as welcoming, having accepted her when she entered the district in eighth grade. 

Christine Lundie, Career Development Center Coordinator at SBHS, said she’ll recall the graduates as students that made significant contributions to their community.  

“This class has given so much to the community, it does my heart warm and proud,” she said. 

As they leave the wolf pack, Lundie offered a bit of life advice: “Understand that you are responsible for your own happiness,” she said. “If you can do that, and find other happy people, you’ll have a happy life.” 

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