On the count of three, the fifteen graduates from BHMA’s Class of 2017 throw their caps in the air as rainbow streamers color the sky and cover the ground around them. The audience members cheer, the cameras click, and the graduates smile. It is a vivid celebration to end the graduation ceremony, and to mark the successful completion of BHMA’s Two-Year Transition Program. The fifteenth graduation ceremony boasted the largest BHMA class yet, and honored the achievements the graduates have made during their two years here. Attended by family, friends, board members, staff, and other special guests, the ceremony ushered in a new era of life for the graduates. They leave here armed with independent living and job readiness skills, uniquely acquired in a music-infused environment. Perhaps more importantly, they graduate with the belief that they are valuable members of society.
Reflecting this concept was Daniel Habib, the 2017 recipient of the BHMA Visionary Award. Habib is a Filmmaker and Project Director at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. He produced such works as “Including Samuel,” an Emmy-nominated documentary recounting Habib’s experience raising his son with cerebral palsy. Habib’s commencement address drew from his personal push for acceptance and inclusion for those with disabilities, and was interwoven with words of encouragement for BHMA’s graduates. Using Samuel’s upbringing as an example, Habib called for everyone to embrace the idea that “disability is truly a part of our diversity.” He strongly believes that there are countless benefits—academically, socially, and otherwise—to practicing inclusion in all parts of society. It was on this basis that Habib called for change, and for acceptance of the differences that make people who they are. He closed by reassuring the graduates that they have influenced others around them in powerful ways.
The ceremony featured fifteen student speeches broken up throughout the program. The graduates pulled on their performance skills to deliver their words of wisdom, and they moved the crowd with their honesty. Speech themes ranged from gratitude, to personal growth, to plans for the future. Here are excerpts from each speech:
Josh Juaire: “I’ve learned to sing from my own heart and to find my own sound and my own voice.”
Paige Phillips: “At BHMA we cook together. We make jokes together. We help each other. We are friends.”
Tim Daniels: “Dancing makes me feel really good and I like to make people happy when I dance.”
Brian Krutzler: “I have Autism, so it’s harder for me, but I keep working on it. I am making better decisions in life and standing up for what is right and advocating for myself.”
Joey Gagnon: “This is my home away from home. There is no place like Berkshire Hills Music Academy where I can be a hero and be myself.”
Tay Beamon: “My teachers and advisors were amazing and changed my life They were always there for me and helped me when I needed it.”
Emma Pignone: “I do well in my classes. I work really hard and I listen. I'm proud of how hard I've worked and everything I've accomplished."
Matt Allen: “I have been working very hard at my community independence. The more you reach out to the community, the more you learn from it.”
Eric Drost: “I really progressed through all these years here.”
Julia Morris: “This is the life I always dreamed about in high school.”
Carly Ziemba: “I’ve learned to be comfortable in more work environments, being professional while also being friendly, and I’ve really improved my singing skills as well.”
Nesta Brenchley: “The people here are my family now.”
Jordan Caira: “When I came to BHMA, all my dreams came true when I learned that I got to do everything with music.”
Mark Palardy: “After graduation, I’m coming back to BHMA as a LIVE Member. I hope to try out for the Troupe and get a job.”
Alex Mody: “I wanted a place that people would appreciate my hard work and appreciate me as a person.”