Bellows Falls Union High graduates 62

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WESTMINSTER — The 62 members of the Bellows Falls Union High School Class of 2020 had a unique coronavirus-style graduation ceremony on a balmy almost-summer evening at Hadley Field on Thursday.

Students and teachers wore masks, and many of the guests did too, and they did their best to keep a "social distance" from people not in their immediate group. Chairs were kept far apart on the football field.

See more photos in the online photo gallery.

With the threat of COVID-19, the scholars and leaders of the class did mention the worldwide pandemic, but focused on the traditions of graduation: thanking their parents, their family, their friends and teachers and coaches for getting them to the high point of their high school careers.

Wearing the traditional gowns of purple and white, but carrying a white rose, the graduates and their guests had to observe the social distancing — albeit relaxed somewhat in recent weeks -- that actually allowed the class to have as traditional a graduation as they could get.

At one point, the school was planning on having a drive-up graduation, because of the health regulations. The graduation ceremony, which is usually held on the lawn in front of the high school, was moved to Hadley Field, to give the graduates more room to be six feet apart — and more tickets — with parents and friends sitting in the bleachers.

But even with the move, graduation was a smaller affair, with attendance strictly limited to about 350 people, according to Principal Christopher Hodsden.

Senior Grace Thompson sang both The National Anthem and "This is the Moment" to begin the evening.

Class President Griffin Waryas thanked everyone who helped the class during the coronavirus disuption.

Valedictorian Olivia Lauricella, Salutatorian Emily Bazin and third honor Gabriel Hakimoglu were joined on the stage by four other honor students, Timothy Salter-Roy, Carver Scott, and Isaac Wilkinson. They all spoke fondly about their four years at the Westminster union high school, and their perennially thwarted class efforts to win at Winter Carnival.

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"Not many people can say they've had the same teammates since 3rd Grade," said Wilkinson, a basketball player.

Hakimoglu said that while he has only lived in Bellows Falls four years, the sense of community us strong. "There really is no place like it," he said, noting he grew up on a farm in North Carolina and in a Chicago suburb before coming to Vermont.

He thanked Vermont for having "one of the highest per pupil spending in the country," since it meant he got a great education.

Scott spoke about "those nagging voices ... that pushed me out of my comfort zone," and ended his speech with a big thank you to his mother for being "the external nagging voice."

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But after spending the last four months quarantined at home and not at school, the students showed their appreciation for their parents, time and again.

While Salter-Roy started his speech boldly announcing that his parents were "fired ... after 18 years on the job," by the end of his speech, he heaped praise and thanks on his parents for guiding him and his sister Alice.

Bazin said her classmates grew up first in a traditional world, and then one that inundated them with technology — cell phones, iPads, and computers.

"The new waves of connection and communication led to the creation of an amazing class like no other," she said, noting that with a smartphone, it is easy to arrange a meeting either at Athen's Pizza or the Dari Joy, further strengthening the bonds of classmates.

Lauricella riffed on writing a graduation speech that would land her on The Ellen Show, maybe.

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And she reminded her classmates that it is their class, after all, "who got kickball banned" at the Saxtons River Elementary School.

"I have confidence that one day I will be invited on The Ellen Show and I have confidence we will surprise the world!" she said to applause.

They also thanked and praised their teachers for getting them through a difficult time — not to mention all four years of high school.

Class President Griffin Waryas urged his fellow classmates to take a gentle approach to life after high school.

"Spread kindness and empathy," said Waryas, who is also an honor student.

"Be the beam of light that shines on the lives of those around you," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at

WESTMINSTER — These are the members of the Bellows Falls Union High School Class of 2020:

Ryan Bashaw, Emily Bazin, Noah Bemis, Brennen Bickford, Shelby Bixler, Stone Bradbury, Hayden Carpenter, Jonathan Carrington, Dylan Clark, Jeremy Corliss, Kimberly Currier, Halle Dickerson, Hannah Dupuis, Taylor Goodell, Anna Guild, Gabriel Hakimoglu, Stephanie Holland, Kendra Houle, Jacob Howarth, Jonah Jacobus, John Jacques, Dakota Jones, Tiffany Jowett, Meagan Kelly, Ryan Kelly, Angie King, Tyler Koske, Brenna LaDuc, Alek Lawrence, Kara Lescord, Jeremiha Long, Jaden Luebbert, Andrew Malshuk, Alana Martiin, Shane Martin, Kimberly Nelson, Madison Pencek, Hunter Picard, Justin Pinette, Molly Potter, Maxwell Purdy, Maya Record, Makayla Reed, Torrie Rice, Collin Robertson, Timothy Salter-Roy, Carver Scott, Miranda Sevene, Dylan Sheltra, Hunter Smith, Jacob Tefft, Amyra Terena, Kristal Terry, Grace Thompson, Jaxton Upton, Samantha Upton, McGregor Vancor, Braeden Vartuli, Griffin Waryas, Justus Washburn, Kasidy White, and Isaac Wilkinson.


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