Celebrating the Grit and Determination of the Class of 2022

Written by
Stephen Mease

Date
June 8, 2022

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Graduation collage

VSAC has profiled nearly two dozen traditional and adult students over the 2021–22 academic year, and 10 of them are among the graduating Class of 2022 — some from high school, some from college. In this week’s spotlight, we wanted to give a final shout-out to those 2022 graduates and their exciting next steps, and pass along some of their perspectives on “pandemic learning” and the state of today’s world.

Brayden Bixby, Mill River Union High School

Brayden Bixby grew up wearing a fireman costume almost every day and tagging along with his dad, a deputy chief with the North Clarendon Fire Department. Brayden rode along to his first fire call at age 10. Now he serves with both the North Clarendon and the Rutland City departments, and this fall he’ll be attending an exclusive fire sciences program at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, New Hampshire.

“I want to help people and help the next generation,” he says. “I have a strong passion for public service. I want to answer the call.” His dream is to come back to Rutland City after college and hopefully start up a junior firefighters program.  

Allyson Ratz, BFA Fairfax

Allyson Ratz has always been interested in the way things are put together, whether it’s the individual strokes of one of her award-winning pencil drawings or the lyrics of a favorite Bob Dylan song. After an AP Psychology class, she realized she was also interested in the components of human behavior — how the chemical reactions that take place in our brains influence how we think, feel, and act. Thanks to help from VSAC’s Talent Search program, she’s figured out how to channel that interest into a college major (biopsychology) and a possible career path in the medical research field. She’ll be heading to a private college in Illinois in the fall.

On pandemic learning: “Remote learning allows some students to thrive causes others more difficulty. I was a student who adjusted quickly and preferred remote learning at times when my school went back to ‘normal’.”

On the future: “One thing that I am optimistic about is the world still being filled with exciting opportunities and chances to learn. One thing that concerns me is that more and more people are turning against each other, and themselves.” 

Coco Huang, Blue Mountain Union High School

If Shixin “Coco” Huang’s parents had decided to remain in Guangdong, China, where she was born, she would have taken a standardized test in the sixth grade that would have determined whether she would go to college, technical school, or straight into the workforce.

Instead, when Coco was 8, her family emigrated to Wells River, Vermont, and Coco had the opportunity to determine her own fate through her own hard work. This fall she’ll go to Brown University to study public health, a field that sparked her interest after a six-week summer internship at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

On pandemic learning: “I will tell my children that although it sounds like a dream come true to be able to do school from your bed, we missed out on some of the best years of school and our teenage years because of the pandemic.”

On the future: “One thing that makes me optimistic about the state of the world is that there are so, so many more young people who are fighting for what they believe in. Something that worries me about the future is that many who hold the power at the top aren’t listening to young people’s voices enough.”

Brody Brown, Williamstown High School

Brody Brown has had dreams of becoming a doctor since middle school. When his school reduced AP course offerings due to COVID, he sought out online learning partnerships that would keep him on track. And after completing all his high school requirements a year ahead of schedule, he enrolled in the Early College program, finishing all of his freshman-year pre-med requirements at Norwich University.

Brody will head to Middlebury College in the fall, where all that foresight and hard work could allow him to earn his bachelor’s degree in biology in three years. Down the road, Brody is thinking about becoming a surgeon.

On pandemic learning: “Someday when I’m taking to my kids about going to school during COVID, I will remind them that high school is a time for identifying who you are and your passions in life with the help of socializing and others’ experiences, as well as your own. I will encourage them to not take advantage of the opportunity, to just be a kid and enjoy the short time they have in high school (because you never know when a global pandemic will outlast your high school experience)!”

On the future: “One thing that makes me optimistic about the state of the world is some people’s genuine care for others. One thing I fear for the future is the polarity among individuals, and the inability to work together because of that polarity. I feel as though in so many regards, we’ve experienced the inability to listen and communicate with one another, and I fear that lack of humanity.”

Samantha Hadvab, University of Vermont

Samantha Hadvab, who grew up in tiny Benson, Vermont, recalls being ridiculed for her big dreams. “When I was in middle school, lots of people said, ‘Oh, really? This girl from Benson wants to go to college?’”

Those comments made her even more determined to prove them wrong, despite growing up in near poverty after her dad was disabled in a serious car accident. Through the Early College program, Sam ended up completing a year of college before she even left high school. This spring she graduates from UVM with a degree in medical radiation sciences, which she hopes to put to good use helping patients, like her own father, who are struggling with chronic pain. 

Raneen Salha, Milton High School

Raneen Salha is fascinated by the human brain. As a middle-schooler, she witnessed her grandmother’s decline from Alzheimer’s, and she decided to turn that experience into something positive and hopefully help others by becoming a neurosurgeon. She credits VSAC with helping her stretch herself by applying to several elite colleges, including Harvard, Columbia, Boston University, and the University of Vermont.

As one of few Vermont students of Middle Eastern descent, Raneen has experienced some prejudice, but she has also worked hard to help others expand their perspectives. She is active in several social justice groups and has also worked one-on-one to educate her peers. “Just changing the mind of one person can really help the community as a whole,” she says.

Lucas Roberts, Twinfield Union High School

Lucas Roberts was ahead of the game: He had finished all of his high school requirements, save for one English class, by the end of his junior year; so once he was assured he could continue to play high school soccer and basketball, he signed up for the Early College Plus program, completing the cybersecurity fundamentals certificate program at the Community College of Vermont. The experience allowed him to feel out a possible major, and apparently, he was “sold;” he’ll be majoring in computer information systems at Husson University, starting this fall.

On pandemic learning: “The good thing about the pandemic for me was that my grades got better because I focused more on class work. Unfortunately, I also lost touch with some good friends and missed out on a lot of sports.” 

On the future: “I can't wait to start a new journey after high school, and I’m confident that I will have a successful career in the electronics field. I do worry a little about making new friends, because I’m shy, and I’ll need to get used to living away from my family.” 

Natasha Sankgasoot, Brattleboro Union High School

Natasha Sankgasoot grew up working at her family’s Thai restaurant in Brattleboro. While she loved how food connected her to both her neighbors and her cultural heritage her mother grew up in Thailand she realized she wanted to find another way to do that besides cooking. A high school nutrition class became her inspiration, and she started thinking about a career as a health and wellness coach. She already has a couple of client success stories: She’s helped her mother lose weight and start exercising, and she also hopes to help her grandmother better manage her diabetes.   

Natasha applied to New York University, Simmons College, and NVU Johnson, and really hopes to participate in a study abroad program.

Aaron Premont, University of Vermont

For Aaron Premont, a combination of humility and hard work have helped him become the first in his family to graduate from college. His college schedule was busier than most; he worked three days a week, interned three days a week at a radio station, and had classes and homework in between. Aaron attributes his work ethic to his close-knit family, adding that each family member gave him something different — from constant moral support from his mom and practical “fix-it” tips from his stepdad to inspiration from his grandparents on how to give back to his community.  

When he leaves the UVM campus with his business degree in hand, he hopes to work in sports management in a large market like Boston or New York. But no matter where he goes, he still wants to make sure he can be there for his eight younger siblings and stepsiblings, who range in age from 17 to 3.

“I’m the big brother,” Aaron says. “And when it comes to college, I’m trying to lead the way for them. I want to show them, you guys can do this too. Ask me questions, and I will help you.”

Calleen Ferris, NVU Johnson

We haven’t yet introduced you to Calleen; her profile will be featured in a few weeks. For now, consider this a “teaser” about the uplifting story of a young woman who grew up on a typical hardworking dairy farm, as the oldest of seven children, where the cows and the little siblings always came first, and there wasn’t much time for extracurriculars. But when Calleen became the first in her family to go to college, that independence gave her the freedom to explore her interests, from volleyball to theater, which opened the door for her brothers and sisters to also participate — and really excel — in high school sports, with the full support and understanding of their parents.

Calleen has already completed several rounds of student teaching in preparation for her first “real job” as a teacher at Sheldon Elementary School this fall.

On pandemic learning: “COVID-19 limited a lot of people's educational access in the beginning. Lots of my friends took big social, athletic, and academic losses by missing out on those in-person activities. However, over the years it helped people look at new ways to educate students, and we have made leaps and bounds of progress. Now there are opportunities to offer so many new learning opportunities for diverse learners.” 

On the future: “Something that gives me hope is that people (young and older) have become advocates for those who may have been oppressed in the past. One hundred years ago, we lived in a world where so many people didn't have a voice. It makes me happy that more people are willing to stand against those injustices to help change the way society is built. One thing that worries me about the future are the roadblocks for students to receive higher education. College has helped me reach my goal of becoming a teacher and it makes me sad to think that some people cannot reach their goals because of the lack of resources for first-generation and low-income families.”

Congratulations to all the 2022 graduates!


For information on college and career planning and help with financial aid, go to www.vsac.org/FAFSAfirst and check out our online workshops and events. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and online at info@vsac.org.

This story is produced by Vermont Student Assistance Corp., created by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 as a public nonprofit agency, to advocate for Vermont students and their families to ensure that they achieve their education goals. Our vision is to create opportunities for all Vermont students, but particularly for those—of any age—who believe that the doors to higher education are closed to them. We begin by helping families save for education with Vermont’s state-sponsored 529 savings program. To help Vermonters plan and pay for college or career training, our counselors work with students in nearly every Vermont middle school and high school, and again as adults. Our grant and scholarship programs attract national recognition, and our loan programs and loan forgiveness programs are saving Vermont families thousands of dollars in interest.