TOWNSHEND -- On Saturday morning 54 Leland & Gray students received a diploma and said goodbye to their high school.
And as one speaker after the next pointed out, they also were leaving a small, close-knit community that sometimes felt as much like a family as it did a high school.
"For the past four years I have been able to know everyone and I have become accustomed to seeing you all every day," Class of 2013 President Kori Griffin told her classmates. "It's hard to believe that I am not going to be seeing you all regularly. I'll miss you all in this school and community."
The Leland & Gray 2013 Commencement was held Saturday morning under a warm sun and a brilliant blue sky in the athletic fields behind the school in Townshend.
One of the student speakers, Ashley Goddard, also recognized Leland & Gray's relatively small student body, and she said her school was a place where the teachers were able to get to know every student on an individual basis.
"The commitment of the teachers here is above average," she said. "This is a place where the teachers are down to earth, and approachable, and where we can get acquainted with every teacher."
Goddard also talked about Leland & Gray's unique octagonal shape and how when she first walked around as a seventh-grader it seemed huge and she was petrified.
"Now it is a source of comfort and security," she said. "The circle helped get us to know each other.
Class Valedictorian Jesse Newton talked about how the teachers, coaches and students at Leland & Gray encourage other students to take chances and explore new interests.
Newton said he had done little acting before high school, but discovered both a talent and a love of theater that he hoped would extend beyond high school.
"We are able to express our individualism here," said Newton. "We were encouraged to step out of our comfort zone."
Keynote speaker Linda Rood is retiring after 25 years of teaching English at Leland & Gray and she told the class that she shared a bittersweet sense of accomplishment and longing as she leaves the school.
She talked about the parts of teaching she will miss -- the laughter and sense of wonder students show when they understand an idea, and the parts of teaching she will not miss -- such as waking up early and grading papers all weekend.
And she reminded the students that she, and the graduates, were both marking the end of one experience and the beginning of another.
"Graduating is like leaving a part of your family who you do not know if you will be seeing again," Rood said. "The best way to walk out of a door is with an open eye and an open mind and to approach the world with curiosity."
Ann Landenberger gave the faculty speech.
She mentioned graduates by name and remarked on each one's gift and special ability after working with them over the past four years.
She encouraged them to continue to nurture their individuality.
She also said it was their creativity that sets them apart, and she said that whether they were logging, going into medicine, or pursuing the arts, it was important to explore new ideas and come up with new ideas.
"Don't lose that sense of creativity to the status quo," she said. "Feed that creative beast and you will be able to see what others can not."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.