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Leaving for college, 17-year-old Ellie Hammond will miss the 'big warm hug' of the Mad River Valley

 A young woman smiles for the camera inside of a high school hallway. She's wearing a green shirt.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Ellie Hammond is a 17-year-old from Fayston and a senior at Harwood Union High School.

Around Vermont, high school seniors are about to graduate. For many of them, this was the first year that the pandemic didn't profoundly affect their school days.

We wanted to get a sense of what it was like to go back to "normal," and to understand what really matters to teenagers about to head into the world. So we asked some students at Harwood Union High School in Washington County to document what they found significant about their senior years, and worked with them to produce a series we'll be airing all week.

First installment: Harwood Union HS senior Adam Porterfield reflects on 'remembering how to be a human being' after COVID

Ellie Hammond is a 17-year-old from Fayston. Today, we’ll join her family for game night on New Year’s Eve.

We recommend listening to this story if you can! We've also provided a transcript below.

[Speaker one: Are we ready?

Group: 1... 2... 3... snowman!]

Ellie Hammond: For winter break, all of my cousins and my grandma, everyone, they all come to our house in Vermont because they want to have the Vermont winter — go to Sugarbush for the fireworks and all that. And they're all from like New York or Massachusetts. We were playing that game in our living room. We probably had a charcuterie board out. We were waiting for the ball to drop.

[Speaker two: Zero points. Try again.]

I can't remember the game's name, but you have to think of something and then say a prompt — and not say what the word is that you're thinking of — and have everyone shout out a word. And whoever says the same word as you said gets a point.

[Speaker two: A Christmas Carol that I would pick. 3... 2... 1.

Group: Jingle bells!]

I mean, what I think about when I think about that audio recording is just all of our laughter. Constantly bickering, but it's it's all love — it's all jokes.

[Speaker three: Something you can be allergic to. 3... 2... 1...

Group: Dairy! [multiple voices saying different words]

Speaker three: I thought everyone would get that!]

My mom is a lawyer in Burlington; she does employment litigation. With me, my mom, my sister — we definitely got super close during the pandemic, because my mom could work from home. It sometimes feels like she's one of our friends. Like she knows all the TikTok phrases. She's obsessed with Taylor Swift. I steal all of her clothes; she steals all of mine. I mean, I still loved my mom before but it's just — it's really nice. Now that she's like — she really understands me and my sister a lot.

[Speaker four: A musical artists who sells out stadiums. 1... 2... 3...

Group: Taylor Swift!]

I am going to Elon University in North Carolina after high school to study elementary education. And I'm going to miss my family so much. North Carolina isn't close, but it's the closest out of all the schools I was looking at. Like, we're already planning parents' weekend, already planning visits like that.

[Speaker four: A vowel.

Group: Indistinct noises.]

I'm just gonna miss the Mad River Valley in general. It's just the community — where everyone is very connected. In the winter, if there's no power, neighbors check in on each other. There's no school so all the kids in the neighborhood -- like we all go to Boyce and go sledding. It's just stuff like that.

Living in a small town can feel kind of suffocating sometimes. But at the same time, you can also feel like a big warm hug — like you are really protected by everyone around you. And everyone really cares about the community that they're living in.

[Ellie: Next question.

Speaker four: Someone who's very smart.

Speaker two: I know how we should all answer this one!

Speaker three: Well duh!]

I definitely think I will return back at some point. I definitely want to get out of Vermont and explore and see the world and you know, live my life. But Vermont, it's always just going to be such a special place for me — my family being from here.

[Ellie: A food that you cook in the microwave. What would I answer?

Speaker two: I know what you would answer.

Ellie: 3... 2... 1.

Group: Ice cream!

Ellie: Who said ice cream? Dad!

Speaker two: So annoying.

Group: [laughter]]

When I look back on the special bonding moments with my family in general, I'm always just going to think about how lucky I am to be able to have a family that we all love each other and care about each other and want to play those games with each other. And how that creates people who care about me and want to help me — who are involved in my life.

This story was produced by Kevin Trevellyan and Anna Van Dine. And special thanks to Kate Youngdahl-Stauss, a teacher at Harwood Union who facilitated this project.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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