'Grit and perseverance'

Leland & Gray grads told to pursue their dreams


TOWNSHEND — Dressed in white and walking arm in arm, 39 Leland & Gray Union High School students strode out across a vibrant green lawn under a marvelous blue June sky painted with thin white clouds.

Saturday's celebration in Townshend was a recognition of their path to becoming alumni.

Lucas Newton and Kaie Quigley gave a speech together, attributing their success to their grit and perseverance. Newton urged his fellow graduates to move forward into the world with confidence, applying the same grit and perseverance that got them through 12 years of school.

"But perhaps most importantly," said Newton. "We can seek out and appreciate joy, even in the face of the challenges the world will throw at us."

Quigley said it was important to thank those who work behind the scenes to help all the students succeed, including the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers and the janitors. He also thanked Barbara Marchant for stepping in as class advisor when they desperately needed one.

"Obviously, there is no way we could have made it without our incredible teachers and staff members," said Newton, who singled out soccer coach and math teacher Chris Barton, who's been at Leland & Gray since Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" was at the top of the charts and wifi had not yet been invented.

Quigley singled out math teacher Paul Weber. "The last time Mr. Weber was not teaching a math class at Leland & Gray, he was fighting for women's right to vote and getting kicked out of Harlem speakeasies for wearing socks and sandals."

They both also thanked the new teachers at Leland & Gray for "fitting in seamlessly."

"We are fortunate to have a core base of caring educators who wish to see us succeed," said Quigley. "At the end of the day, they just want to see us do our best and they gave us all the tools necessary for us to flourish."

"They are not only our educators, but some of our biggest supporters," said Newton.

Quigley also thanked his fellow graduates and the rest of the student body for supporting each other, cheering them on from the sidelines or in the audience at theater productions in Dutton Gymnasium.

"But those days have come to an end," said Quigley. While they will no longer step on the field, the court or up on the stage, he and Newton said the Class of 2019 can continue to do the things that got them to graduation day.

"We can accept any challenge that faces us and overcome adversity," said Newton. "We can use persistence and diligence to achieve our goals. We can take pride in putting forth our very best in tackling any endeavor. We must continue to be fearless as we enter the infamous real world. Move forward with the confidence that we will apply the same perseverance and grit that got us to this stage in our journeys of adult life."

When Ed McGrath, who is in charge of maintenance at the school, took the stage to give a send-off to the graduates, he described himself as "a little bit of a plow horse."

"I am a simple man," he said. "I am the maintenance man."

McGrath said he thought the students were crazy when they asked him to give a speech.

"Let me apologize now in case I hurt your feelings," he said. "We may not see things eye to eye ... but I will take time to listen to other people's point of view in case I'm wrong. Lord knows, we've all been wrong before."

McGrath urged the graduates to think about the members of the VFW, veterans and the National Guard and senior citizens because "They have paid the most."

He also told the students that they have a lot of decisions in front of them, but asked them to think of their country over themselves and to "understand the struggles of the American people."

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He reminded the graduates that going forward they will have to make compromises. "Some of you might have to compromise to keep family war from breaking out like I did. War is not the answer. Compromise is."

McGrath said everyone should get educated to the best of their ability. "That may be far harder for some to achieve than others. If you can't achieve a higher education, be a better person. It's probably worth more in the end anyway. And remember, you never stop learning if you never stop trying."

He urged the graduates to go to school, work and take care of the kids.

"Just get it done or we fail as a country. Remember, we are all in it together and it's time for you to start chipping in. Get ready for those taxes and get out there and do something. Be respectful to the elderly and women and the country. Be good Americans. And one more thing. You kids pick up the trash. I'm sick of it and I don't care if its your graduation. Do it for me. Think of its as your first job as being a good American."

Myles Ellison, a 2006 graduate of Leland & Gray, was the day's guest speaker. Ellison, who lives in New York City and is a real estate agent and professional model, said he was honored that the faculty selected him to give the keynote speech. He described his life since leaving Leland & Gray as a roller coaster.

"My life has been a mixture of low lows and high highs," said Ellison. He began his speech with a quote from Elizabeth Kugler Ross: "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."

Ellison told the graduates his mom died when he was 13.

"My dad and my brother were my rocks," he said. "We were a pretty dysfunctional family, but I appreciated what we had when the times were good."

His brother, Mitchell, went on to serve two tours of duty in Afghanistan, a time when Ellison expected a bad phone call every day. But Ellison's brother returned safe and is now working on his doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh.

In 2016, Ellison's father died. "The deaths of both of my parents were a seemingly insurmountable tragedy that could easily have knocked me down and kept me there for good. My brother and I got through it together and it strengthened our relationship."

Ellison, a former class president, said he was telling the story not "to garner your pity," but to offer an example of someone who's been through tragedy and come out on top.

"It would have been so easy to give up or follow in the dysfunctional footsteps I came from," he said. "I stand before you today with pride, confidence, recovery, happiness, gratitude, compassion and some semblance of inner peace. But ask me again tomorrow and I'll probably be crazy. But life, I've found, is a one-day-at-a-time journey. Some days the best you can do is get out of bed. ... Live for the moments in life that you are overfilled with joy and can't stop laughing."

He said his journey in New York City to achieve his dream has taught him about resilience, confidence, values, the ego, business, human nature and culture.

"I went from reading GQ Magazine in my childhood home in Brookline ... to appearing in its pages in 2018."

While he's realized his dream, he said he's also seen the dark side of the business, and seen how hard work, sheer luck and strategy can help you succeed in whatever you do. "If you have a dream go for it, because a dream is the only thing that pulled me out of my darkest depths and propelled me forward," said Ellison. Never give up on your dreams, he said, even if you hear only one yes for every 99 you've heard no. "Persistence pays off. Sometimes the only one who believes in you is staring you back in the mirror. Decide what you value the most and prioritize that. Cherish every moment with your family, friends and loved ones and romantic partners. If you love someone, tell them."

While you may not achieve your exact goal, he said, "The essence of what you want may manifest in a previously unseen way that is just as good if not better."

Principal Bob Thibault gave special recognition to Patty Brissette for 21 years of service to Leland & Gray and to Paul Weber, for his 33 years at the school.

To view the complete ceremony, visit www.brattleborotv.org.

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


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