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Student takeover: 4 stories about change from graduating seniors

Graduation season is a time of change for students across our region. In this episode, we share stories about change from graduating seniors. Topics range from an historic market entering a new era to a gender transition.
Joia Putnoi
Vermont Public
Graduation season is a time of change for students across our region. In this episode, we share stories about change, each of which was made by a graduating senior. Topics range from an historic market entering a new era to a gender transition.

In honor of graduation season, we’re featuring local stories from high school and college students — all on the theme of “change.”

On Brave Little State, we usually answer questions about Vermont and our region that have been asked and voted on by you, our audience. But today, we’re mixing it up — with stories from graduating seniors that each relate in a different way to this episode’s theme: “change.” Like a historic corner store entering into a new era. And, a gender transition. And even … getting a tattoo.

"August, Unspecified" from Emma Ginsberg
"Lessons from a grandfather's dairy farm" from Addey Lilley
"Chick's Market" from Samantha Watson
"So, I got a tattoo" from Bre Glover

Each of these stories evokes a mixture of excitement and nostalgia and uncertainty — emotions familiar during any type of change or transition, and especially so right now, to graduating seniors.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio provided here. Keep reading below for a written version, though please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Heads up, this episode contains a few un-bleeped swears.


Joia Putnoi: We are standing here, it's 8:05 in the morning, waiting for the procession to begin. We’re in the College of Arts and Sciences and we’re at the back of the line. We had to wake up at 6:30 in the morning to be here. 

Josh Crane: This is Joia Putnoi, about to graduate from the University of Vermont.

Joia Putnoi: And I am waiting for the waterworks to start. I’m definitely feeling emotional. My family’s here. And, yeah, looking forward to kind of seeing everyone lined up on the green together. Be back soon!

Josh Crane: Joia’s a newsroom intern at Vermont Public. She’s spent most of her senior year with us. And she's gotten pretty good at balancing life as a journalist with life as a student; Right through the end when she agreed to record a few moments from her big weekend.

Joia Putnoi: So the first initial ceremony just happened, and it lasted for two and a half hours. It is definitely very challenging to kind of sit through that in anticipation of everything that this day has to hold within it — Congratulations! —  It's about to pour. So that is feeling really exciting, and it's definitely a little bit stressful around the edges today.

Joia Putnoi graduated from the University of Vermont in May 2023. She’s also a newsroom intern at Vermont Public, and she documented her big weekend for Brave Little State.
Joia Putnoi
Joia Putnoi graduated from the University of Vermont in May 2023. She’s also a newsroom intern at Vermont Public, and she documented her big weekend for Brave Little State.

Joia Putnoi: It’s just, it’s such a weepy time and the emotions are definitely running high. Obviously, the question that we're primed to ask graduates is, “What are you doing next? What are your plans?” I feel protective over celebrating the right now and not wanting to delve into what the future could be.


August, Unspecified

By Emma Ginsberg

Left: Gus Guszkowski (left) and Emma Ginsberg in 2021. Right: Gus (left) and Emma in 2023.
Emma Ginsberg
The left photo is Gus Guszkowski (left) and Emma Ginsberg in 2021. The right photo is Gus Guszkowski (left) and Emma Ginsberg in 2023.

Gus Guszkowski:  I'm trying to tone it down for this interview, but my natural voice is like this. 

Emma Ginsberg: That voice is my best friend, August Guszkowski. They don't actually talk like that most of the time, but who knows how their voice will change in the weeks ahead.

Gus Guszkowski: Sort of between a prospector and an old-timey radio broadcaster.

Emma Ginsberg: Gus just started testosterone hormone therapy as part of their gender transition.

Gus Guszkowski: It's weird. I started non-binary and then went trans man and then went back to non-binary, and now I'm still non-binary, but I'm like, “Mmm, being a man doesn't seem too bad.” (laughter)

Emma Ginsberg: They've wanted to take this step in their transition for a long time.

Gus Guszkowski: The first time I made sort of any body modifications to myself was my sophomore year of high school when I was in a production of Romeo and Juliet, which gave me a really, really good excuse to do some sh— I'd been wanting to do anyway. I got my hair cut short and I was like, “It'll grow back. It's for the role.”

Emma Ginsberg: It took eight years of wading through school and a month suffering the slings and arrows of appointment scheduling bureaucracy...

Gus Guszkowski: And then, of course, the actual process of getting prescribed T was very easy and pleasant because the clinician at Planned Parenthood is an awesome professional who is very kind and has seen a lot of trans people before. I did, I will say, in order to expedite the process of getting hormones, you have to have some form of diagnosis, which means there is a medical record out there with my name on it that says: “August Guszkowski. Diagnosis: gender identity disorder, parentheses, unspecified.”

Emma Ginsberg: But eventually, August Guszkowski, unspecified, finally got what they needed: a tube of testosterone gel to kick off 2023.

Emma Ginsberg (in interview): So when you finally got that dose after all of that and you put it on for the first time, what did you feel in that moment? 

Gus Guszkowski: Slimy. It's like if rubbing alcohol and insulin had a baby and it grosses me out every time. I hate the way it smells. But, after it absorbed into my shoulder, I just sort of looked in the mirror for a second and went, “Holy sh—, holy sh—, I am on testosterone!” And then I went back to bed because it was 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday. 

Emma Ginsberg: Gus decided to start on a smaller dose of testosterone than most. They wanted to ease into the changes slowly, but now they kind of wish they could speed things up.

Gus Guszkowski: The things that are happening have not been noticeable to anybody but me yet. Mostly it's just that I smell a little different and I've been sweatier and my period is kind of irregular. And that's it. And I want visible sh— to start happening to me. I want weird “bac-ne.” The stuff that's considered bad, I want it to start happening just so I have something to show to the world and be like, “Look, I'm doing this. It's working. Can you please see me the way I want to be seen now?”

Emma Ginsberg: Gus needs change. Something they can see right now. I figured, you can't grow a mustache on demand, but you can change your clothes today. Maybe a wardrobe refresh will get the wheels turning.

Emma Ginsberg: Dump it, dump it, dump it!

(hamper dumping sounds)

Gus Guszkowski: There we go. That's an empty hamper. 

Emma Ginsberg: The goal is to sort through Gus's clothes and take all the old stuff to our local thrift store. The clothes we keep have to fit two criteria. The first: To make the cut, the article must fit Gus' ideal gender presentation, which is...

Gus Guszkowski: If I time traveled back to the 1890s, I want everyone who sees me to go, “Oh, what a nice young man.”

Emma Ginsberg: The second criteria: The article must accommodate Gus' body as it changes on testosterone.

Gus Guszkowski: There are several pairs of pants here that I am keeping because these are linen dress pants, which are about the only things I can wear to work when it's hot out that meet the “don't sweat to death” requirement. 

Emma Ginsberg: Sweating is a big deal for Gus. They usually run pretty cold, but now…

Gus Guszkowski: Like in the afternoons, after I eat, sometimes I'll just get very warm and flushed. And that never used to happen. I'm too warm, and it's awesome!

Emma Ginsberg: Despite the hot flashes, Gus gets rid of most of the...

Gus Guszkowski: ... weird little shorts...

Emma Ginsberg: ... in the pile. They won't fit soon.

Gus Guszkowski: That's, I think most of the rest of this stuff is going to stay with me, except not this pair of jeans, which is very sad actually. These used to be my mom's and they don't fit her anymore, so she passed them down to me. They're not gonna fit me soon either. They're already not a great fit. And once my body fat starts shifting itself around there's going to be too much in the stomach area for me to even get these on and zipped. 

Emma Ginsberg: Still, Gus just sits on the floor holding these jeans for a little while.

Gus Guszkowski: She'll buy clothes that she herself would never wear, like, never in a million years. But she'll pretend she's buying them for herself because we're about the same size. And then she'll be like, “Oh, this didn't fit me right,” or you know, “I didn't like the way it looks on me. Do you want it? Because otherwise I'm just gonna have to return it.” And, of course, every time I'm like, “Yes, I want it,” because she knows how I dress. 

Emma Ginsberg: Gus and their mom haven't always had the easiest relationship, but they have that.

Gus Guszkowski: No conditional love is ever going to replace unconditional love, but the older I get, the better I get at recognizing when she was expressing it. And it's hard to want to say, like, “I'm getting rid of that forever.” 

Emma Ginsberg (in interview): And the jeans for you are part of that?

Gus Guszkowski: Yeah, I think I'm probably gonna keep them. 

Emma Ginsberg (in interview): You can keep them. 

Gus Guszkowski: I'm probably gonna keep them. 

Emma Ginsberg: Just last week, Gus' mom said she was thinking of buying a necktie for herself. She doesn't wear ties, but Gus does.

Josh Crane: Emma’s graduating from Dartmouth College in just a few days. And Emma tells us that Gus, who graduated in 2022, is about to start their Masters in library school at the University of Washington.


Lessons from a grandfather's dairy farm

Vermont Public asked some students at Harwood Union High School to document what they found significant about their senior years, and worked with them to produce a series that has been airing all week.

In this installment, 18-year-old Addey Lilley interviews her grandfather, Douglas Lilley, about his dairy farm in East Calais. Click here for a written version of this story.

Addey Lilly is about to graduate from Harwood Union High School. She grew up spending time on her grandfather's farm.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Addey Lilly is about to graduate from Harwood Union High School. She grew up spending time on her grandfather's farm.

Chick's Market

By Samantha Watson

A large brick building with a doorway to a corner store with a sign reading "Chick's Market" over the entrance.
Anna Van Dine
Vermont Public
Chick's Market sits at the corner of Hickock and River Streets in Winooski.

Samantha Watson: When you walk into Chick’s Market on the corner of Riverside and Hickok streets in Winooski, you’ll see bags of chips and detergent on shelves, gallons of milk and sodas behind tall coolers, a deli counter and a kitchen griddle.

(store ambience)

Pamela Vezina: My name is Pamela Vezina and I’m the owner of Chick’s Market.

Samantha Watson: Pam started working at Chick’s in 1985. At the time, the store was owned by Dick and Carole Corbiere. They were family of the original Edmond “Chick” Dupont, who founded the corner store in 1944. In 1999, when the Corbieres were looking to retire, they helped Pam buy the market, allowing her to pay in installments over the next five years. Now, she’s been behind the counter for almost four decades, a constant presence in a changing neighborhood.

Pamela Vezina: You know, I really love this store. And I love everybody that comes to my store. 

Samantha Watson: But now, it’s time to retire. Pam says it’s hard to leave — from the beginning, it’s always been about her customers. She’ll listen to anyone who needs to talk, she puts out food on the stoop for stray cats and keeps a box of treats behind the counter for dogs. She’s watched children grow up, move away, come back, and have kids of their own. She tells a story about a boy she knew, who grew up down on Elm street, and really wanted a lollipop one day.

Pamela Vezina: And he was only four and he walked way up here to the store in his cowboy boots and underwear (laughter). And he sat here and, of course, first thing his mom did was call here because she knew that he was gonna be here with me, sure enough (laughter). Now he comes here and he’s all grown up and if I mention it he turns all red (laughter).

(store ambience)

Samantha Watson: Chick’s Market is known for its grinders — monster sandwiches you can make two meals out of. Popular menu items include the steak and cheese grinder, or the breakfast sandwich that’s served all day. Sonny, Pam’s husband and co-owner of the market, hand-peels 50 pounds of potatoes each night to make the next day’s side of fries. He says it takes him two hours. Chick’s is the kind of place you come to for a sandwich, a lottery ticket, toilet paper. But, you get a lot more than that. It’s the kind of place where you are known, where your family is asked after, where there’s someone behind the counter who wants to know the true answer when she asks “How are you today?”

Pamela Vezina: Diane, she’s been a customer for a long time!

Diane Deso: I’ll think, “Maybe I’ll buy it.” (laughter)

Samantha Watson: Diane Deso grew up around the corner and has been coming to Chick’s since the late sixties when she was a little girl. She talks about getting ice cream here as a teenager and, later, candy with her children.

Diane Deso: Sodas when I was a kid, yep. This is all the same right here. These are all the same coolers.

Samantha Watson: Today, she stopped in to place an order of five grinders.

A woman pays for sandwiches at a the counter of a corner store.
Anna Van Dine
Vermont Public
Diane Deso, who's been coming to Chick's since her childhood, pays for an order of grinders.

Megan Johnson: So she got a whole turkey, another whole turkey. Oh, she got five sandwiches.

Diane Deso: Yep.

Samantha Watson: This morning, Megan Johnson is behind the deli counter. She practically grew up at Chick’s — her mom has been an employee here for over 20 years. Megan says Pam is like a grandmother to her.

Megan Johnson: Pam took my whole family in. We moved next door to Pam and we met Pam, and since then it’s been this big family. (laughter) Yeah, It’s gonna be really sad when it’s gone.

Samantha Watson: Earlier this year, Pam and Sonny put the business and building up for sale. Pam says after all these years, it’s time to rest. They say they are looking for a buyer who will continue to run the business. The customers say it’s the person behind the counter that they’ll miss.

Pamela Vezina: You know, I’m a people person. And I’ve been here for them if they need somebody to talk to. You know, some of them are young children that are lost. So, if they need to talk, I let them talk, you know. Even grownups, you know, they’ve been through hell and back and they need somebody to talk with, so I talk with them.

Samantha Watson: Pam says she serves everyone, sometimes giving out a sandwich or letting people run a tab they can pay off later. She says she's witnessed mental health crises and drug problems in the shop, and has learned the best strategy is to talk people through it. Spend a morning at Chick’s and you’ll find that conversation, in all its forms, is part of its backbone.

Pamela Vezina: It doesn’t always have to be a sad story (laughter). I like funny, we like laughters.

Samantha Watson: Chick's is currently on the market, and Pam hopes it will sell this spring. But for a few more weeks, you can still find her behind the counter, ready to listen and laugh.

Josh Crane: Samantha Watson. Sam recently graduated from the University of Vermont. Meanwhile, Chick’s Market has now been sold to new ownership. Sam says it will officially change hands next week on June 16th and that the new owners plan to keep it running as it is, under the same name. Pam, the former owner, says she plans to relax and undergo her much needed foot surgeries. This week, everyone from the neighborhood is throwing her and Sonny a farewell party in the market.

So, I got a tattoo

By Bre Glover

Bre Glover got two tattoos for a story she made in a nonfiction radio and podcasting class at Dartmouth College. She graduates in June 2023.
Bre Glover
Bre Glover got two tattoos for a story she made in a nonfiction radio and podcasting class at Dartmouth College. She graduates in June 2023.

Bre Glover: A few nights ago, my friends and I went to dinner in White River Junction. I’ve spent a lot of time here over my five years as a resident of the Upper Valley. But this time, something new catches my eye. I see this huge clown. It’s on a sign that says, “Tattoos.” I’ve been trying to figure out what to do a story on for my podcasting class and I’m kind of running out of time to figure it out. Suddenly, it hits me: “What if I got a tattoo tomorrow? And what if I recorded it?”


Bre Glover: I have one tattoo that I got about a year ago. They say once you get one tattoo it’s over. And I won’t lie, after I came home from getting my first one, I felt like I needed more. I would get more but mostly I’m just terrified of tattoo parlors. Once I convinced my friend to book an appointment with me. Needless to say, she walked out with two and I walked out with my tail between my legs. Today, I’m feeling brave. So, I send an email titled, “Time Sensitive: Request for a Class + Potential Tattoo Appointment.”

Bre Glover: I guess I’m really doing this? We’re gonna go get a tattoo today! (laughter) Oh my god.

Bre Glover: The next thing I know, I’m en route. When I arrive, I contemplate my decision. But, eventually, I give myself a pep talk and enter the store.

Bre Glover: Did you say someone has a walk-in time?

Brian Barthelmes: Jeff does. 

Bre Glover: Like today? 

Jeff: Yes!

Bre Glover: What time do you have? 

Jeff: For the rest of the day.

Bre Glover: Oh cool! I’m, like, maybe I should get something. I think it would be fun to record it, if you’re OK with that.

Jeff: Yeah, totally!

Bre Glover: I walk in terrified and leave with two fresh tattoos and a great story to tell.

Jeff: Alright… ready? 


Bre Glover: Over the past decade White River has experienced a major downtown revitalization. Standard Company Tattoo, home of the giant clown sign, is part of that revitalization. It opened about two years ago, and it’s across the street from the Tip Top Media and Arts building, a hub for creatives in the Upper Valley.

Brian Barthelmes: There's a kind of class and generation of business owners that I'm a part of that maybe started fruiting six, seven years ago.

Bre Glover: That’s Brian Barthelmes, owner of Standard Company Tattoo. Brian plays a key role in White River’s arts community. To paint you a picture, Brian is a 6’8” former offensive lineman for the New England Patriots. He’s covered in tattoos, has hair down to his shoulders and a huge bushy beard. He’s the type of person whose voice and booming laugh are the first things you notice when you walk into the room.

Brian Barthelmes: So as a kid I started drawing a lot, my whole life. But, I have anxiety — everyone does, but I have a large amount of anxiety. And, so, when I would start feeling it, my mother would give me a pen and paper. 

Bre Glover: Brian wanted to get out of rural Ohio, and he did, with a football scholarship to the University of Virginia. In college, he taught himself to play the banjo. He secretly made art and music.

Brian Barthelmes: I never felt quite comfortable in any one place, right. To be an athlete and also an emotional artist — when I was around other athletes, I felt like I had to suppress that. And when I was in the art world, I didn't want anyone to know I was an athlete, right. My whole life felt like this juxtaposing force against itself.

Bre Glover: After graduating, Brian wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. So, like many graduates fresh out of college, he took the quote-unquote “safe” career. You know, that first job you don’t love, but you do it because you don’t know what else to do? For him, that meant signing on with the New England Patriots. After a few years, he decided it was time for a career change.

Brian Barthelmes: And, so, when I stopped playing football as an occupation I was playing music, met some friends. We end up playing together, we started a band. I don't know the intentions were anything other than collective group therapy, but...

(Song “I’ll be Damned” playing)

Bre Glover: The music you’re listening to right now, that’s Brian’s band, “Tallahassee.” He’s the lead singer. Brian says in addition to his love of music, he’s always loved the art of tattooing.

Brian Barthelmes: The tattoo is an outcome of a moment between the tattooer and the person receiving a tattoo. So, you know, unlike a painting where you can store it down away in your basement and not talk to anyone while you conceive it, the entire art form is, like, at least 50% reflective of the person that's involved. And that became the idea for the shop. 

Bre Glover: Their first location was in West Lebanon. But, after the first year it was clear that the community he built had outgrown the small space.

Brian Barthelmes: And the idea of the shop, the way that we run it, is that it's a big plant. We needed a bigger pot for it, and we stuck it in there. And now everyone who works here and loves it, they kind of see another end of it to prune. 


Bre Glover: Brian doesn’t take himself or his tattoos too seriously. He likes to use his body as a canvas to teach other people.

Brian Barthelmes: I have a whole upper side of my leg where I also let my friends tattoo me who don't know how. So, I make sure it's clean and, like, set up proper. And watching my friends kind of panic as they make terrible things on my legs is one of my favorite pastimes. (laughter)

Bre Glover: Brian and his wife have two twins who love to hang out at the shop. Once, with the help of his kids, Brian tattooed their art on his legs — right there and right then. They were about three at the time.

Brian Barthelmes: Any time my kids are loving and doing something I love, it makes me real happy. So, those tattoos are really fun. It was like watching these little mini humans, like, seeing it and wiping it and being like "woooooowww!" You know, I like, I love that.  


Bre Glover: Brian says that no matter how large this community he’s cultivated grows, it will always be rooted in curiosity and acceptance. This is something he hopes to pass on to his kids, and also to the next generation of White River artists. Unlike a lot of other tattoo shops I’ve been in, Standard Company Tattoo just felt extremely welcoming. And, as for the new tattoos I got…

Jeff: Cool, check those ones out. 

Bre Glover: Awesome. That’s exactly what I wanted. Thank you so much. 

Jeff: Of course. 

Bre Glover: In White River Junction, I’m Bre Glover.

Angela Evancie: Bre told us she got two small tattoos for this story. One is the number of the house she lived in during college, and the other is a cloud. Bre’s graduating from Dartmouth College in a few days, and she’s not sure yet what her next move will be.



A big thanks and good luck to the students whose work we shared today: Emma Ginsberg, Samantha Watson, Bre Glover and Addey Lilley. Thanks to the University of Vermont, Dartmouth College and Harwood Union High School for supporting audio journalism, and to Brittany Patterson, Kevin Trevellyan, Anna Van Dine and Sophie Crane for being excellent teachers. (Full disclosure: Sophie is married to Brave Little State’s own Josh Crane.) Special thanks to Kate Youngdahl-Stauss.

This episode was produced by Josh Crane, with editing and additional production from the rest of the Brave Little State team: Angela Evancie, Myra Flynn and our intern, Mae Nagusky, who also happens to be a student — she’s a rising senior at UVM. Music by Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear and the band Tallahassee.

Our show gets lots of help from colleagues behind the scenes, so we also want to shout out Francesca Orsini for teaching us how to make the BLS newsletter look extra fancy.

As always, our show is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public and a proud member of the NPR Network.

Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's the senior producer and managing editor for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience, and runs Vermont Public's Sonic ID project.
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