The audience rose from their seats as the Castleton State College Wind Ensemble began “Pomp and Circumstance.’ Castleton President David Wolk led the procession of graduates down the aisle of Castleton’s Casella Theater. But the students who followed Wolk’s lead donned red caps instead of the traditional Spartan green – and not a single graduate was over the age of 13. The ceremony, a prelude to the commencement exercises that will take place at the college in another month, was an honorary ceremony for all participants in Castleton State College’s mentoring program.
Students in 4th- through 6th-grade at Castleton Elementary School have been involved the yearlong program where they are given a mentor; either a student or staff member of CSC.
The program allows college students to connect with the Castleton community and more importantly, kids within Castleton.
It also serves an encouragement for elementary students to act upon their goals and dreams and to pursue higher education.
The 135 elementary students were titled the college graduates of 2019, 2020, and 2021, titles they sported on top of their graduation caps.
The theme of the ceremony was undoubtedly to reach for the stars and provided several words of encouragement for the youngsters that emphasized dreams are possible to achieve.
Castleton Family Health Center Pediatrician Dr. Louis Bauzo was the keynote speaker for the event. Bauzo told the students of the elementary school and the college, about the obstacles he encountered in his own life.
Bauzo, who was encouraged by a teacher, decided he wanted to be a doctor when he was just 12 years old; an unlikely future for a young man who’s parents did not complete elementary school.
“I didn’t want to be poor anymore,” he told the audience.
Growing up speaking little English after moving to Boston from Puerto Rico and his poor way of life were not the only obstacles standing in Bauzo’s path. Bauzo leveled with students about drug use that went on in the housing projects in Boston where he lived and he pleaded with the elementary students not to turn to drugs.
The pediatrician told of how though the cards were stacked against him, he prevailed and succeeded. He encouraged students to start good habits, stay away from the bad, and work hard to achieve goals.
“I am living proof,” he said. “That if you guys have a dream and work hard, you can reach that dream.”
CSC Student Government Association President-elect Justin Garritt, who also opened the ceremony, spoke to the students, touching on the same goal-reaching theme.
“The journey begins today,” Garritt said. “Never give up. Keep pushing forward.”
Garritt had some of the Castleton Elementary students stand as he told the audience what their dreams were and addressed them personally and encouraged them to work hard to achieve their goals.
But the Castleton Elementary students were not the only ones honored at Thursday’s ceremony. The Castleton State College mentoring program has been in effect at the college for the past four years and is the largest recognized mentoring program in the United States with 97 student members. Most of the members of the mentoring community on the Castleton campus are student athletes.
Wolk stressed this fact in his opening address.
“Student athletes are students first, then athletes,” Wolk said.
The CSC Men’s Lacrosse team was unable to be at the ceremony because of a game at Johnson State College, but was recognized for having the most members in the mentoring program, a total of 21 players. The team did not forget about their men-tees though.
Garritt played a slide show made by the team for the students with a final message that addressed the group: “Set your goals as high as the stars and never stop shooting for them.”
Castleton’s Area Coordinator, Dan Gardener was recognized as Most Valuable Mentor. Several times throughout this year, Gardener took his men-tee to Huden Dining Hall for dinner and to Castleton sporting events.
The mentees took their turn to thank the college students by volunteering to get on stage with their mentor and express what they enjoyed about the program and their time with their mentors. Castleton 6th-graders, who will be moving onto middle school in the fall and will no longer be a part of the program, expressed disappointment in their time being over but also shared what a good time they had.
“I’m good at getting into trouble and my mentor got me out of a lot of trouble,” said one 6th-grader to an audience that found his remark comical. “I’m disappointed this is my last year,” he said.
The ceremony concluded with a chant where all the students stood with their classes and yelled “C.F.E.S. WE ARE THE BEST!” as Castleton Elementary teachers tossed candy into the crowd. The audience was then able to look back on the year with a slideshow.
The Castleton Elementary incoming 4th-graders were then welcomed into the mentor program they will be a part of in the fall of 2009. After the ceremony, students enjoyed cupcakes in the lobby, took final pictures with their mentors, and hopped in front of the Channel 3 News camera, in attendance for the event.
CSC students in the program feel that it is very rewarding.
“It’s definitely fun,” said freshman, Tabatha Leahy. “It’s relaxing after a day of stress and classes. And they appreciate you being there and look up to you.”
The program will start up again in October and will run throughout the year, providing several celebrations throughout until next April. The program requires college students to spend one hour once a week with the mentees but several of the CSC students said they liked seeing their mentees outside of the program.
“It’s the best part of my week,” said CSC freshman Stephanie Terry. “It’s really, truly a great program.