DOVER -- First year principal Bob Morse thought he had seen it all during his tenure at Keene High School, but that was before a storm called Irene.
The massive flooding in August destroyed hundreds of homes, displaced families and turned Twin Valley High School into a shelter before Morse could even get settled into the job.
"I learned what ‘Vermont Strong' meant this year," he said to the 40 graduating seniors during the ceremony at Mount Snow's Grand Summit Lodge, Saturday. "This is an incredible group of young men and women and I know they're all going to go on and do amazing things."
Russell Mayhew, a former math teacher who was asked to be the keynote speaker, shared three important lessons he had learned after graduating.
"First, there's a good chance that the first step you take is going to land you flat on your face," he said. "Next, I learned that you can't always wait for the right moment ... you can't wait for the stars and planets to align before you try to make something happen in your life. When you're new to something and have no idea what you're doing, you can get by with honesty, genuine effort and a willingness to make mistakes along the way."
The last thing, he said, was that the big picture is made up of tiny pixels, moments that will challenge the best and brightest.
"There will be times when what you hope to accomplish seems unobtainable and the goal you've set for yourself seems out
Among the graduates was a perfect example of what Mayhew was trying to convey.
Eight months ago, one of their classmates, Trey Cunningham, was playing for a championship caliber soccer team, hanging out with his friends, playing video games and deciding on whether to attend college or the military.
On Oct. 20, Cunningham was riding in a car with a friend along Route 100 through a thick foggy rain, when the driver lost control of the vehicle and struck a telephone pole.
Cunningham nearly died. He had a broken femur, 11 broken ribs, a broken thumb, lacerations where his kidney and liver are, and his right lung was crushed.
After several surgeries and months of daily physical therapy filled with numerous small steps, Cunningham, with the help of his friends and his parents, Anne Cunningham and Chad Lackey who rarely left his side, walked across the stage Saturday afternoon to partake in the events with his friends.
"I'm doing a lot better than I thought I would be at this time," he said. "I'm blessed to be here."
His friends thought so too.
"It's an honor to walk with him ... it gives me butterflies," said Dylan Brage, one of Cunningham's best friends.
Augustus Conmy, another of his best friends, echoed Barge's sentiment.
"Graduation wouldn't have been the same without him," Conmy said. "He's one of our brothers."
Cunningham still doesn't have complete control of his body and he'll probably never be able to remember the events that happen prior to and during the accident, he said.
"I still can't drive, but there's an unimaginable amount of love in this community," Cunningham said. "I wouldn't be here today without my mom, my family and my friends."
As for his future, he said although the military is no longer an option, his passion for studying its history is.
"I'm thinking about being a history teacher someday, maybe focus on military tactics or historical wars," he said.
College will have to wait another year also, as Cunningham still has several classes to complete before he can finish high school.
His mother said she couldn't have been prouder.
"I was so happy to see him walk across that stage with the friends he's had since pre-school," she said. "I know he's still got a long way to go but I'm so proud of the recovery he's already made."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.