ADAMS, Mass. — At a time when most are thinking of limitless potential and endless possibilities, BArT senior Will Schrade invited his classmates to embrace mediocrity.
Perhaps not forever, but at this particular moment, as the class of 2020 huddled around their computer screens in quarantine instead of gathering in a gymnasium bursting to capacity, the concept of "good enough" has a certain appeal, Schrade argued.
He was one of four Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School students to provide "senior reflections" during Saturday's hourlong graduation exercises, the first virtual high school graduation in Berkshire County.
Delivering his remarks in a highly unconventional forum, Schrade took the highly conventional step of framing his remarks around a bit of pop culture. In his case, he reflected on an episode of the situation comedy "Community," in which the characters go through various timelines to show how their world would change based on a random event, a toss of a die
"Through lots of soul searching and binge-watching lots of YouTube, I've come to this thought: We aren't in the prime timeline, and that's fine," Schrade said. "I think we all get to a point where we either see things as the best outcome or the most rotten one. And I think we feel like we have more control over our lives when we know which timeline we are in and can adjust to it better. We believe that even if things are bad, there's a chance they can get turned around with something great happening.
"This thinking doesn't allow us to include mediocrity. Sometimes, things are just OK, and we aren't in the best or worst reality. Sometimes, reality is just between those two extremes, and we have to deal with it. 2020 may not be the great reality we all hope for, but it wasn't the worst. We have to accept that things are just OK and live in the middle of the road. We have to let go of some of that control telling us that we have to live life to be one extreme or the other.
"I suggest we all take the rest of 2020 as just a mediocre year and not the dream year we all hoped for or the freak show the last couple of months have been."
None of the speakers at Saturday's ceremony ignored the elephant in the room, namely, the fact that the 27 grads were in 27 different rooms as they wrapped up their high school careers.
But none spoke more directly to the emotion that most grads are feeling this spring than did Finley Root.
"This isn't how I wanted to spend my senior year in the slightest," Root said. "I wanted to go to game night and have fun with all my friends. I wanted to go to prom and dance with my girlfriend. And I wanted to get locked into the school for senior lock-in. But, perhaps most importantly of all, I wanted to go to senior graduation. To be denied the ability to have an in-person graduation is infuriating."
But in his own way, Root echoed Schrade and encouraged his classmates to fight through the anger and find the lesson that they can take from the last three months, since the COVID-19 pandemic forced BArT to close its doors.
"There is absolutely no reason that we should let this ruin our high school careers," he said. "I believe we should take this as an opportunity better ourselves. High school, in essence, is all about becoming an adult. So what better way is there for us students to test our independence than being isolated from society.
"You and I have been separated thanks to this virus -- peers and peers, family and family, students and teachers. The puzzle we spent so long putting together has been stomped on and disassembled by the little brother of reality, some petty virus. Now, it's our job as the elder to decide how to deal with the situation."
Principal Sean Keogh, who earlier this month visited each of the seniors in their home to deliver a graduation day kit, returned to the school himself for Saturday's ceremony. Specifically, he returned to the classroom where he taught English to this year's seniors -- his last stint in the classroom before moving to the corner office.
Intentionally or not, Keogh picked up on the theme of alternate timelines introduced by Shrade.
"This group, of all the students I've taught, was the least satisfied with the endings of novels," Keogh said. "You were always capable of stealing a whole class period imagining and discussing better and more satisfying endings to these novels. I don't say this as a criticism.
"A desire for neat and satisfying endings is quintessentially human."
Of course, no one envisioned this ending for the students' years-long journey through the halls of BArT, and Keogh said he hated "this stuipid virus" for ruining the ending he planned for the class of 2020.
Then, he had a revelation.
"I realized that eventually in those English classes, we stopped proposing new endings and started dealing with the ones we got," Keogh said. "We went back in the text and tried to pull out meaning.
"When we do this in real life, we call it reflection. … I reflected. I went back through our shared text and remembered all the inside jokes about yams and Olive Garden and matching T-shirts that made me laugh but would be meaningless to others. I remembered the time that literature brought us to literal tears. I remembered how we nurtured ourselves through difficult times.
"In thinking about this, it made me hopeful. And hopeful isn't something I've felt in a long time. I became hopeful because we formed a community with shared language and shared ideas that bridged the divides that plague the adult worlds. … It is why, as we speak, there are dozens of teachers weeping at computer screens. It is why there are countless underclassmen waiting to step into the legacies you have built here. It pains me to say this, but life is not literature. Our stories will not end when we hop off this Zoom call.
"We continue to move on."
Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School's class of 2020, with future plans if announced at Saturday's ceremony:
Alyssa Anderson, American International College; Driss Bourzgui, University of Massachusetts at Lowell; Troy Brainerd, Plymouth State University; Austin Caufield, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; Eduardo Dominguez, Berkshire Community College; Sal deBerthune, Lesley University; Gwendolyn Farnsworth; Miles Fippinger, Williams College; Andrew Gilman, UMass-Lowell; Troy Healey, Berkshire Community College; Grace Krzank, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; Holden LaRocque, Framingham State University; Brenden Marquis, Fitchburg State University; Ryleigh McGovern, Berkshire Community College; Danielle Montgomery, Plymouth State University; William Peets, Emmanuel College; Ashley Pixley, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; Finley Root, Berkshire Community College; Luke Salinovici, UMass-Lowell; Sean Salinovici, UMass-Lowell; Alison Sanchez, Berkshire Community College; William Schrade, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Joshua Shoestock, Army; Gianna Sondrini, Mount Holyoke College; Kylie Taylor, Providence College; Nicholas Viggiano, UMass-Amherst; Philip Williams, Castleton University.