BARRE — Three members of Spaulding High School’s Class of 2021 weren't on hand Saturday when valedictorian David Poulin triumphantly told classmates “our journeys are just beginning” Eusebio Aja’s, Kent Barcomb’s and Matthew Durgin’s already had.
A later than usual commencement — Spaulding’s 128th — and military commitments that just couldn’t wait forced Aja, Barcomb and Durgin to miss their big day and perhaps the launch of a new, new normal.
It’s one where graduates — not their families and friends — occupied the bleachers, the stage was on the fringe of the school’s cinder track not at the 50-yard line of A.G. Pendo Memorial Field, and the Spaulding hymn — “Lead Kindly Light” — wasn’t part of the program for the first time in forever.
Technically, it wasn’t part of the program last year when Spaulding’s Crimson Tide went out one socially distanced wave at a time during singular ceremonies that spanned three days.
Saturday’s commencement lasted about an hour and ended when Principal Brenda Waterhouse — the only non-student who spoke — predictably praised the class that graduated on the tail-end of a pandemic for its “resilience and perseverance.”
“As a graduate of Spaulding High School, go forth with ‘Tide pride. You did it!” Waterhouse declared as the band began to play, the crowd amassed on the football field cheered for the graduates in the stands and caps flew skyward with many landing on the dusty track.
That’s how it ended. With most graduates not bothering to march off together when they left the bleachers, but filtering on to the field to find their families.
They did march in together to the traditional “Spaulding March” and after the National Anthem and the class colors were posted, Katelyn MacIver kicked off a series of student speeches.
MacIver, the class vice president, welcomed families, faculty and everyone else who was on hand to witness an important milestone.
MacIver ended with a few words to her classmates.
“Simply put, we did it and let me be one of the first to say ‘congratulations,’” she told students who were sitting behind her.
“Take this moment and enjoy it,” she added. “Be proud of what you have accomplished. Our future is coming and I could not be more excited to see where life takes us.”
MacIver’s speech set the stage for Poulin’s and salutatorian Jacob Allen, who is also the class president.
Poulin went first telling classmates “it is time for us to move on to bigger things” and sharing some lessons he learned at Spaulding, where he distinguished himself as a scholar and an athlete.
Poulin advised classmates “pain and effort pay off,” preached the importance of trying new things and declared “happiness is the most important part of life.” He also asked them to think about how they wanted to be remembered as they leave familiar surroundings.
“Think about your close friends, but also think about the people whom you remember for simple things such as always being positive and smiling in class, for helping include you in a sport, or for simply saying hello in the hall or making you feel welcome somewhere new,” he said. “Try being one of those people who leaves a mark on those around you. Focus on leaving everything better than you found it even if you are forgotten.”
Allen’s address was “interesting” — literally that was the title — and after praising the class for overcoming the unprecedented obstacles posed by the global pandemic, he concluded that was the word he would use to collectively describe them.
“‘Interesting’ in the absolute best sense of the word,” he said. “‘Interesting because over the many years we’ve been able to discover the greatness in each other. ‘Interesting’ because I know each of you has made my life better and that is something I’ll never forget.”
Allen closed with an easy to accommodate request.
“You may change, grow and make the world a better place, but don’t ever lose what makes you interesting,” he said.
Odds are Ezra Bernier won’t.
Graduates who were urged to “choose joy” by class secretary Natalie Taylor before receiving their diplomas heard from the senior who wore his cap atop a 10-gallon hat twice after that exercise was over.
Bernier and fellow senior William Poirier led the singing of “Glory to Spaulding” — something he told the crowd the pair had done every Friday over the intercom this year.
When Bernier was done signing he was called on to deliver the farewell address and largely ignored what he’d written and free-wheeled instead.
“How the hell did we make it through this year?” he asked. “Like this is insane!”
Bernier, who was “soaked in sweat” on a muggy day that mercifully featured a stiff breeze, spoke from the heart when addressing fellow graduates.
“Look at us,” he said. “Look at how far we’ve come. Look at yourself and look at your friends and just feel that pride that you should be feeling right now.”
Bernier lamented high school years that blew by faster than he could have anticipated and left him filled with a mix of pride and sorrow.
“You guys are amazing. I love you guys so much. This better not be goodbye. Let’s get the hell out of here!” he said, wrapping up with a verbal display of youthful exuberance that had classmates roaring and Waterhouse, who followed him to the podium, blushing.
“That’s a tough act to follow,” she said.
Aja, Barcomb and Durgin didn’t hear or see any of it and weren’t able to collect their diplomas in person.
Aja, who started boot camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy earlier this week had his brother Malcolm Rich accept his diploma. Rich, who graduated from Spaulding in 2004 was on hand with several family members including Aja’s proud father and namesake, Eusebio Aja Jr.
Barcomb, who joined the U.S. Army flew to Fort Benning Georgia for basic training and designated his dad, Walter Barcomb, who graduated from Spaulding in 1982, to accept his diploma.
It was a special day for the elder Barcomb, because while one of his twin sons — Kent — asked him to stand in for him at graduation, the other — Ethan — received his diploma seconds before he fulfilled that request.
Spaulding J-ROTC instructor Danny Boone accepted the diploma During earned before starting basic training with the Vermont National Guard earlier this week.
You can watch the graduation here at https://tinyurl.com/2smr5st6