'Education is the great equalizer'


BRATTLEBORO — It was a gray day most of Friday, but at about 3 p.m., the clouds cracked open and the sun came shining down, just in time for the Brattleboro Union High School Class of 2018 graduation ceremony.

More than 150 graduates filed onto an athletic field, surrounded by family, friends, faculty, administrators and staffers. After the national anthem and the salute to the flag, Jacob Bailey welcomed family and friends to the graduation. "We couldn't have done it without your help," he said. "Parents, you helped us through the ups and downs.

"Teachers," said Bailey, "you had the ultimate challenge — that is teaching us for the past four years. I want to acknowledge your hard work and sacrifice."

Bailey also thanked the custodial staff for keeping their learning environment clean, the kitchen staff for keeping them fed, and security "for keeping us safe every day."

Salutatorian Zev Kazati-Morgan reminded his classmates that all over the United

States, the Class of 2018 is speaking out.

"We are strong-willed individuals, prepared to stand up for our beliefs, but ready to sit down and listen to those who believe otherwise," he said. "In the last year alone, it was students who raised the Black Lives Matter flag high on our flag pole. It was students who rallied for common sense gun control and safety in this school. And it was students who peacefully counter-protested in support of gun rights. So, let's continue this trend of student activism. Let's continue to have a firm yet amicable exchange of opinions in the marketplace of ideas. Go off into the world, Class of 2018, and raise your voices and be loud."

But Kazati-Morgan reminded the graduates that to get where they are today, they had to stand on the shoulders of past generations. For him, it was great-grandparents who emigrated from a tiny village in eastern Ukraine and the generations that followed.

"My education is a direct actualization of my forebears' dreams," he said. "Our education is a direct actualization of the dreams and ambitions of each of our ancestors, and that is a great responsibility."

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And even though some of his fellow graduates are going on to college, some the first in their families and others the 12th, while some of his classmates are going straight to work or are off to trade school, said Kazati-Morgan, "Right now we stand on equal footing. All of us were afforded the opportunity to take these years of knowledge and turn them into a future. That can be a daunting task, and I am so proud of all of us for what we have achieved and what I know we will."

Kazati-Morgan dedicated his speech to Principal Steve Perrin, history teacher Kevin Martell and English teacher Beneth Sauer.

Valedictorian Olivia Howe shared with her fellow graduates comments their teachers and advisors have made about the Class of 2018.

Martell told her the students "challenge the norms and question the accepted," math teacher Katie Westby commended them for their perseverance and the support they offer each other, and German teacher Karen Sebastian considers them "like a mosaic, more vibrant and indelible as an integrated whole."

In the words of Michelle Hood, the chairwoman of the science department, said Howe, "If you were a garden, you'd be spreading out respectfully through the soil."

Howe asked her fellow graduates to keep all of their teachers in mind as they go forth, and whenever they have the chance, tell them how they have made the members of the Class of 2018 better human beings.

"With all of these extraordinary passions in every one of us, we are capable of expanding into the world and transforming it," said Howe. '"Now is the time to reach into the place where your dreams lie and pull yourself toward them. The ideas that fill you with wonder now are the flames that will power you through your goals."

However, she reminded her classmates, the future is not just for them.

"We must work for others as well as ourselves," said Howe. "Each of us throws lights, shots off in a different direction. We are confident and passionate about our individual paths, but we are most beautiful and most useful as a whole."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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