TOWER- This year’s graduation at Vermilion Country School was special for a few more reasons than usual. Yes, the teachers and staff at the school were enormously proud of this group of six students. Yes, their families, who filled almost every single available chair in the school, were also very proud. And yes, their younger classmates were on hand to say a final in-school goodbye.
This was the sixth year VCS has been in operation, and half the graduating class were inaugural members of the school.
“Three of the six of these graduates started here in seventh grade,” said school administrator Kevin Fitton. “They exemplify the best we have to offer.”
The class, as a whole, were seen as school leaders, Fitton said, participating in all the extra-curricular and arts classes the school offers.
The guest speaker at the ceremony, on June 1, was Michael Joint, a former VCS paraprofessional who had worked at the school in its second and third year. Joint left the school to finish up his own college degree, and now works as the associate program director at the Northern Tier High Adventure Base in Ely. Joint had gotten to know many more VCS students since Northern Tier partners with VCS to offer summer and winter canoeing and camping trip for the students.
“When I first met you,” he said to the graduates, “I was only a few years older than you are now.”
Joint urged the students to work hard, be honest with themselves, and acknowledged a lesson he had learned as an adult, that it is hard to be perfect.
“Give yourself a break,” he said, “and give your family and friends a break too.” You need to hold on to those relationships, he added.
He told the students they won’t always have a job that they love, but they need to keep their goals in mind, and reach towards what they want.
Graduate Shaylin Peliska spoke about the impact the school had on her life.
“I came here in eighth grade,” she said. “I wasn’t doing well at my other school.”
She talked about how VCS has helped her through so many things, and how the friendships she had made her first day at school continued through her time at VCS.
Graduate Daqari Shanks said his six years at VCS had been “amazing.”
“Our staff here is so special,” he said, singling out his teachers, one by one, for special praise, or in some cases, some comedic relief. These were teachers with the energy to power him through a rough day, teachers who were always watching (“like a hawk”) to make sure everything was going smoothly, staff who he considered “a walking library”, staff who supported him in the resource room, and a school office manager who he said was the “school mom.”
“I really love her,” he said. “VCS is a second home to me.”
Daqari urged his classmates to follow through on their goals and dreams “with all your heart.”
“We made it!” he said.
VCS math teacher Al White thanked the parents and families in attendance.
“Nothing would have been possible without your support,” he said. “We share in the trials and tribulations of their lives.”
White reminded the students that they will continue on this path of learning.
“You can learn more than you know, and more than you learned before,” he said. “You are unaware of the limits of your capabilities.”
VCS special education advisor Morgen Carlon reminded each of the graduates how far they had come during their time at VCS.
“You make us hopeful for your future and our future,” she said. “
Carlon singled out each of the graduates for their signature strengths, Jason Premo for this sense of style, Presley Johnson for her free spirit, Shaylin Peliska for her artistry, Jacob Karasti for his love of adventure, and Daqari Shanks for his sense of self and unique spirit, comparing him to a peacock, and urging him to show off his feathers brightly and often.
VCS graduate Katerina Schmidt was not at the ceremony. Kat had spent the last two years as a PSEO student at Vermilion Community College, where she graduated with her AA degree a few weeks ago, and had already moved out of state to continue her education.
Vermilion Country School is a grades 7-12 free public charter school located in Tower. The school offers transportation from Ely, Virginia/Mt. Iron/Eveleth, Aurora/Hoyt Lakes/Embarrass/Babbitt, and the Tower/Soudan/Lake Vermilion areas.