ADAMS, Mass. — The 16 college-bound Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School graduates were charged Saturday with taking control of their own narrative.
After reading the state's profile of the school's 10th graduating class, teacher Sean Johnson explained that in his opinion, this class was a group of survivors.
"That is the state of Massachusetts' story that is told by a spreadsheet but that is not your story. Let me tell you another story about the class of 2017," he told the graduates and their families during graduation exercises in the school's gym. "When I think of the class, I think of one word: survivalists.
"Good people aren't born they are made; good people are forged in the gentle fires of a nurturing community and culture."
Johnson noted that the class's middle school years were not always the best and joked that they "left a trail of broken teachers and peers" but the 16 graduates stuck with it.
"You are the 16 survivors forged in the fires of Mount Doom who have emerged ready to face the world. Not only have you emerged but you have emerged as good people," he said. "That is the story here ... a lesser group of people would have walked away years ago, giving up and letting the wind blow them."
That was his story of the class of 2017 and now, he said, it is their time to write their own story.
"Your whole lives you have ceded your narrative to you parents and teachers…they have been the ones telling your story and walking you through the steps," Johnson said. "Until today ... you must seize your narrative."
"As long as you retain that narrative power, you retain your power."
Graduate Tessa Langsdale reflected on her time at BArT and noted that all though there was struggle, the class went through it together with the support of their teachers.
"I think my classmates and I can tell you that success never comes without a struggle every one of us has struggled at one point or the other in our high school career," she said. "Whether it was learning how to be compassionate, learning your voice, your identity or how to be human."
She said through this struggle, they are prepared to face whatever the world throws at them.
"Five, 10 or 15 years from now if you are still wondering what the universe has in store for you there is no need to worry because as long as you work as hard as you did in these past four years you are going to see more wonderful moments like this one," she said.
Graduate Emily DePietro also reflected on her time at the school and said she arrived at here seven years ago as a "shy, anxiety-filled, 4-foot tall, sixth-grader from Florida Mountain" and has grown through her years at BArT.
She said the class of 2017 is close and she is proud of her fellow graduates.
"Being with the same 16 people you would think that you would get sick of each other and we do," DePietro laughed. "Although we bicker we are friends ... we have fun with each other. I am so proud of the people in my class and I have grown up with them and they have grown up with me."
Before the class presented their teachers with flowers, graduate Alain Morrissette thanked all of the faculty members for their guidance
"Now we have to say goodbye to each other and these relationships and friendships which is not easy but also not what this moment is about," he said. "This moment is about teachers and parents who were here with us all along."
Principal April West addressed the students before handing out the diplomas and said the class is ready to face new challenges.
"In your time at BArT, we have been teaching you more than reading, writing, math, science, history, and Spanish; we have been teaching you resilience," she said. "None of you is free from having experienced challenges in your life already, both in and outside of BArT. Being here on this stage today demonstrates the fact that you are a success and that you are resilient."
Executive Director Julia Bowen closed the ceremony, her last as the school's leader, and asked the class of 2017 to stay in touch.
"You are the ones who earned those diplomas you are the ones and…we are here as a source of support for you," said Bowen, who is stepping down after 13 years. "We look forward to hearing about your success."
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