Graduate Shanique Maloney brings down the house with her rendition of the 'Star-Spangled Banner.' See more photos here.
ADAMS, Mass. — In a graduation ceremony typically filled with pop culture references, charter school teacher Stephanie Watroba decided to turn one iconic movie moment on its head.
Its green, wrinkly head.
"A wise man once said ... it was Yoda," Watroba said, drawing a laugh at the reference to the Star Wars character. "A wise man once said, 'Do or do not. There is no try.'
"I don't know what that means.
"Try, please. Try all the time. Try all the things. Try new things. Try old things. Try trying things. Try trying not to try things. Let me know how that one goes. That one sounds interesting."
Watroba was the principal speaker at Saturday morning's ceremony, when Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School sent 29 members of the class of 2019 on to colleges ranging from Howard University and the University of Maine to Williams and Berkshire Community.
Watroba reminded them all that they go equipped with the knowledge they have acquired from their teachers and the experience that trying — and even failing — is part of life.
She borrowed her theme from another pop culture touchstone, the video game Legend of Zelda and, more specifically, the Triforce of Power from the game that adorns her classroom at BArT.
The three-sided figure represents power, wisdom and courage, and Watroba focused on the least understood of the three.
"Courage is a quality that cannot necessarily be taught so easily," she said. "Courage is something that many people mistake as an absence of fear. Therefore, when they experience fear, they think that they are cowards and they give up.
"Courage isn't the absence of fear. It is being afraid and standing up anyway. In fact, you can't have courage without fear."
Graduate Thomas Cook said he was afraid that he might not be able to capture the personalities of his 28 classmates in a single speech he wrote for Saturday's ceremony.
"When I elected to write a speech for graduation, I didn't know what I was getting myself into," Cook said. "Writing a speech that speaks to our class is quite difficult, it turns out. In a class of 29 seniors who all have different personalities, it is nearly impossible. But that is our identity.
"We are everything. We are humor. We can be gossip. We are grit and determination. We can be lazy, too. We are creative. We can doubt ourselves. We are intellectuals. We can make mistakes. We are leaders. We can learn from others.
"For everything we are, we are the opposite as well."
No doubt for some of the graduates of the non-traditional school, the road that brought them to Saturday's graduation was one he or she may not have chosen on his or her own.
First-year Principal Sean Keogh knows how they felt.
Keogh told the audience that when he came to the school as a teacher 10 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, he was not sure about the only charter school in the Berkshires. He thought instead he might move his family to eastern Massachusetts, where he grew up, and wait for a job to come along rather than accepting the only job offer he had on the table.
Keogh said he called his mother to talk about the life-changing decision, and she convinced him to take the bird in the hand and the security that came with the offer to teach in Adams.
"All of this is to say that when I arrived at BArT, I wasn't thrilled at at being here," Keogh said. "I wanted to be with my friends. At a real school. But my mom made me come."
After pausing for raucous laughter, he added, "Sound familiar to anyone?"
Like the graduates before him, Keogh stayed.
"At BArT, I found a diverse community of dedicated individuals and slowly made some friends," he said. "It supported me in leaning in to some of the odder parts of my personality. I mean, seriously, I've admitted to loving Kanye West and 'Gilmore Girls' with equal passion, and they all have embraced me for it.
"Sure, there were times when high standards here stressed me out, but I had to admit that the pressure was improving me as a teacher, making me a better version of myself. I was a person who was working to make the world better, and I was proud of that."
Now, it's the turn of the BArT graduates to make their own mark on the world, they were told.
"As we start toward the next part of our lives, remember our time in high school," graduate Abigail Mullany said. "We will all have days when we wish we could come back to these halls, wishing back to the time when we didn't have to pay our tuition or student loans.
"It was the intense work, the long nights and the will to graduate today that got us through high school. And now, I can proudly say that we did it. We made it. We can sleep easily without having to worry that we forgot to do our English homework.
"I want to thank you for being my classmates and for making the horrors of reality crashing down actually bearable. … Today is the day the life we've known ends, but it's also the day our lives begin."
More photos from this ceremony to come.
Class of 2019 (with college destinations):
Isaiah Richard Albright (St. Lawrence); Dylan Dermody Battaini (UMass Dartmouth); Tyler Jacob Bouchard (Westfield State); Ruth Marin Bristol (Williams); Natalie Rengin Celebi (Purchase); Luka Jacob Clark (BCC), Thomas Joel Cook (MCLA); Madison Kate Decelles (BCC), Joshua Hansen Donovan (UMass Dartmouth); Jessica Grace Doubiago (Make-Up Designory); Joshua Mark Doubiago (St. Michael's); Matthew Thomas Failla (Salem State); Macie Louise Fitch (UMass Boston); Ben Hess (BCC); Johnyce Me'lonie Lanphear-Dyer (Howard); Ian Darren Joseph Lesure (Landmark); Anny Fatima Lopez Urquizo (Siena); Darrell Anthony Lynch (Suffolk); Shanique Dorcas Maloney (Southern Connecticut State); Abigail Mary Mullany (Maine); Shelby Lynn Patterson (Westfield State); Braydon Arthur Peterson (BCC); Joseph O'Bryant Prince (BCC); Riley Patrick Rivard (Curry); Olivia Louise Shaw (MCLA); Ayannah Zhanelle Sheerin (MCLA); Hannah Olivia Stringer (Westfield State); Caitlin Henrietta Terpak (Clark); Abraham Elizabeth Ward (Montserrat College of Art).
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