PUTNEY -- Sixty young people officially won a battle over adversity Saturday.
Landmark College, a private liberal arts college for people with learning disabilities, graduated yet another class of students and its highest-ranking officials congratulated each individual for overcoming the numerous obstacles in the way of their diploma. The students -- from across the United States, as well as from Canada and South America -- sat proudly as a pack on the stage in the front of the Click Family Sports Center.
Hundreds were in attendance to see their loved ones donned in the traditional graduation gowns while being praised for their achievements.
Michael Luciani, the dean of students, told everyone that Saturday was proof that the stigma associated with learning disabilities can be shaken and critics can always be proven incorrect.
"Let us know that today is a day that tells us we are strong," he said from the podium positioned on the stage, before quoting American writer Henry David Thoreau. "What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us."
Landmark President Dr. Peter Eden spoke to the graduates before they received their degrees. He commented on the great energy in the room and asked for a round of applause for the students and the faculty.
After four special awards were bestowed, each of the 60 graduating students was then called by name to get their diploma and speak for a few minutes if they wished to.
New Hampshire native Stephanie Cristy took the podium after being handed her degree and wanted to set the record straight about Landmark. She said there is a stereotype that the college is easy and waters down the courses to accommodate the students' learning disabilities.
"That is a load of ... " she said, before covering her mouth with her hand and drawing laughter from the audience. She then, fighting back tears, apologized to her mother for the difficult times of the past. "You were only trying to love and support. Every time I was hurt, you were hurt. Every time I was in pain, you were suffering."
Massachusetts native Madeline Crapo explained to the crowd that she was diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in the seventh grade and was told by her high school guidance counselor to not even bother applying for colleges because she wouldn't be able to get in. She said she got "rejection letter after rejection letter" until her mother heard a Landmark College radio advertisement, which changed her life.
Vermonter Joseph Gluck, who prefaced his speech by saying it would be brief because he established rules of not swearing and not saying anything political, said attending Landmark has saddled him with a considerable amount of debt that is not entirely financial. He said he owes a debt of gratitude to his family and all the staff members that got him to Graduation Day. He said he will use his diploma to help others and pay it forward.
Gluck then asked all his fellow graduates to stand to be admired by the audience.
Several of the students made reference to Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert Sargent Fay, who died last week.
Afterward, Tricia Stanley, associate director of alumni relations, welcomed the graduates into the school's alumni association, and Trustee Chairman Robert Lewis delivered some closing remarks before the Landmark Chamber Ensemble played the recessional music and everyone proceeded outside for a lunch reception.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.