Protests fail to mar Vicenza's graduation at ancient amphitheater
June 12, 2007
VICENZA, Italy — They say students who attend Department of Defense Dependents Schools have cultural experiences they would never get in the States.
That was in evidence Sunday, as Vicenza High School senior class members received their diplomas in the oldest indoor amphitheater in the world: Teatro Olimpico.
Outside, dozens of Italians opposed to the American use of the Dal Molin airfield protested, creating another kind of history — the first DODDS graduation to receive such attention.
Inside, though, it was all about the students. And maybe a little about their parents. Five of the 33 graduates had parents currently deployed downrange.
“I’m sad, but I’m proud at the same time,” said Brandon McCoy of his stepfather, Warrant Officer 1 Jake Stacey, who missed the graduation because of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan. “I wish he would have been able to attend this occasion.”
“I got an e-mail from him earlier today and he said he was going to try to get all of his work done so he could watch,” said Amy Stacey, McCoy’s mother.
Shane Hinton, another graduate, said he got to talk to his father, Maj. Stan Hinton, who is also deployed, by telephone earlier in the day. And he said he was glad his father would have a chance to watch the ceremony as well via the Internet. A handful of video cameras were stationed around the theater to catch all the action.
Hinton was the last student to address the gathering, giving his classmates the cue to exit the stage. But all the graduates got a chance to address their friends and families and 29 of them did with short messages just before receiving their diplomas.
One message was all in Italian. Another featured some English and some Italian. And another some English and some Spanish.
Valedictorian Adam St. Vincent and salutatorian Megan Gafford shared longer messages. St. Vincent urged his fellow students to take risks in life, adding that most great achievements overcame large chances of failure. Gafford said even small numbers of people — such as her class — could make a difference, and she asked her classmates to be as “persistent as mosquitoes” and become the role models of tomorrow.
At least five of the graduates will attend college in the fall with the goal of pursuing a career in the military. Two will attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and three have ROTC scholarships awaiting them.
That probably wouldn’t sit well with at least a few of the protesters outside the theater. One held up a sign saying “Congratulations to the young U.S. students. Don’t choose Army careers.”
None of the protesters entered the theater during the ceremony, leaving the stage free to the students as the amphitheater rang with round after round of cheers and applause from the graduates’ friends and families.