LUDLOW, Vt. – The 25 graduates of the Black River High School Class of 2020, and the last graduating class of BRHS, celebrated their graduation with a three-part event that included a commencement address by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a celebratory car parade through downtown Ludlow, and an informal car rally with parents and community members in the Blue Lot at Okemo.
Graduating in the midst of a pandemic, which shuttered the school building ahead of its planned closure this year, brought learning quickly into the digital age, and kept the students socially distanced since March, presented challenges to faculty, students, and parents alike as they tried to honor graduates with an appropriate ceremony.
According to BRHS Principal Karen Trimboli, despite the challenges she was pleased “the students did have the chance to walk across Presidential Hall’s stage as the last graduating class.”
The June 13 event began in the school with a few speakers lined up on the stage in the gym, with students and parents separated in classrooms throughout the school.
An expected highlight for students in phase one was a 22-minute recorded speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the senator’s speech was not live-streamed during the graduation but was aired directly after the event. In his remarks, which can be viewed on the Okemo Valley TV website, Sanders congratulated the class and acknowledged all the challenges they’ve had to face and also commemorated the closing of the school. At the end of his speech, Sanders’ encouraged students to go out and make the changes they want to see in the world. “Call out injustice wherever you see it and ask tough questions about everything that is around you,” he said. “I see a very bright future for all of us because of you.”
Two magna cum laude students, Natasha Fortin and Christina LeTourneau, gave speeches, followed by class memories shared by senior class advisor Trish Rafter.
Then as each student’s name was called, they walked out from their designated area and onto the stage to receive their diploma, as their parents positioned themselves in front of the stage to take pictures. The graduates then moved their tassel from right to left, posed for an official photos on stage, and joined their parents below for a family photo-op.
Final words from Principal Trimboli pronounced the class resilient, unique, and persevering, and she wished the class well, ending the first phase of the event.
Following the lights and sirens of local police and fire trucks, the elaborately decorated vehicles of the graduates, many with the seniors perched atop truck beds in full caps and gowns, rolled through Main Street in Ludlow by cheering crowds on their way to their final destination, which was a parent organized event.
Pulling into Blue Lot on the Okemo Access Road, parents and community members, totaling approximately 80 vehicles, were directed to park, with a healthy distance between each, facing a large stage set atop a huge flatbed truck, complete with podium, microphone, and Black River High School banner.
Student vehicles, at first directed to another area of the lot, then drove through a cordoned roadway leading to the stage and parked, face forward, lining both sides of the stage, marking the start of this last phase of events.
Former BRHS English teacher Colin McKaig served as master of ceremonies and welcomed students, parents, and community members. BRHS teacher Anne Gardner spoke about the history of the school and gave heartfelt encouragement and congratulations to the class. Black River long-time coach and Ludlow Recreation Director Howie Paul spoke at length, sharing specific memories about each graduate.
Once the memories had been shared, and after each student had been called up on stage individually to be recognized, the entire class as a whole gathered on top of the stage, and simultaneously threw their caps into the air while family and friends cheered.
It was a poignant moment not lost on the gathered parents and community members. For one last time, a Black River High School graduating class stood together to celebrate the end of an academic year, the end of their high school career, and the end of an era.