Diplomas mark the beginning of so much more

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WESTMINSTER — The 80 graduates of the Class of 2019 of Bellows Falls Union High School got a rousing send off Thursday evening. Salutatorian Ian Wallace gave a humorous and affectionate speech that delighted his classmates, as well the large crowd in Holland Gymnasium. Graduation ceremonies were held inside because of the rainy weather earlier in the day.

Wallace focused on zip codes - and he talked about life in "05158" - the zip code of the high school, as well as the other zip codes of surrounding towns and villages. He said he had personally had 14 years of free, public education - adding that he 'failed' kindergarten in "05154."

"Tonight may be cause for celebration, but we cannot rest on our laurels because the average of 60 years we have left will fly by like an episode of 60 Minutes, by far the greatest show on television, by the way," he said. "In all seriousness though, the best four years of our lives will be the past four years if we stand still and let society swallow us whole," he said. "Sadly, as we learned recently, we never know when it can all end," he said, a reference to a recent fatal car crash that claimed the life of BFUHS freshman Vincenzo Ruggiero. "We need to make the most of our time."

Wallace, noting the $123,151 awarded in scholarships during Class Night, urged his fellow graduates to "give our investors their returns, and pay forward our towns' commitment to education. Whether you're staying in town or leaving indefinitely, please remember to appreciate the great sacrifices of our local zip codes, all so we could learn to think.

"If the exports of our education factory perform admirably, maybe the rest of the world will notice the latest products of 05158," he said to a standing ovation.

Lia Clark, the valedictorian, praised the strong sense of community that surrounds the school. "I am grateful that I didn't have to write this speech alone," she said, "and I am very grateful that I have not had to go through much of anything truly on my own because of this small and amazingly close community in which we have grown up.

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"Our best accomplishments and our best years are ahead of us, because although this diploma may mark the end of an era, it is also the beginning of so much more," Clark said.

Wallace and Clark were among the eight student speakers during the graduation ceremonies. All were in the top 10 academically in the class. Other speakers included Alice Salter-Roy, Sky Swan, Abigail Cravinho, Bradie Harris, Emily Wunderle, and Sophia Hyslop. Other members of the Top 10 were John Donovan and Gunnar Sawyer. Class President Reno Tuttle urged his fellow graduates to "make this community proud."

Clark received the only award that is given out on graduation night - the Alumni Award given by the Bellows Falls Alumni Association.

Matthew Tomberg, president of the association, said Clark impressed the alumni association. "She sets the bar high," he said. "She's a natural born leader."

Even Principal Christopher Hodsden acknowledged the special tributes of the class, saying they were exceptionally hard working and devoted to the school. "What I see is a group of individuals that care very deeply about each other and what they do," he said. "Caring is half the battle of success."

Molly Banik, chairwoman of the BFUHS board gave out the diplomas, including to her daughter Megan Banik. Other faculty and staff - including retired longtime football coach Spaulding "Bis" Bisbee and Hodsden himself - got to deliver their children's or grandchildren's diplomas, complete with enormous hugs.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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