With a gray sky looming overhead, the eleven members of BHMA’s class of 2018 radiated their own light as they entered the next phase of their independence. Attended by family, friends, board members, staff, and other special guests, the graduation ceremony on May 20 marked the successful completion of our Two-Year Transition Program—time spent practicing music, gaining independent living skills, and developing job competencies. From the opening procession to the obligatory cap toss, our sixteenth graduation ceremony was a captivating display of acceptance—an idea that is central to our mission. Reflected in the day’s speeches and the Performance Troupe’s moving rendition of “If the World Only Knew,” the power of celebrating people for who they are was undeniable. Combined with the tangible feeling of accomplishment that hung in the air, the ceremony was BHMA at its finest.
Rich Robison, the recipient of our Visionary Award, echoed the theme of acceptance as he delivered the commencement address. Entering the world of disability after becoming the parent of two children with Down syndrome, Robison is now the Executive Director of the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN)—an organization that “provides information, support, and assistance to parents of children with disabilities, their professional partners, and their communities.” Throughout his speech, Robison strongly conveyed his belief that people with disabilities have unique contributions to offer the world, something he has learned from personal experience. Describing her as his “greatest teacher,” Robison was joined by his daughter Amy on stage, and together the dynamic duo delivered spirited encouragement to the graduates. Robison ended his time at the podium by urging the members of the class of 2018 to keep being themselves and doing what they love. As he declared, “Our world needs each and every one of you. We need your talents; we need your humor; we need your music; we need your souls.”
The eleven graduates—Alexandra, Andrea, Andrew, Ashley, Cara, Ethan, Jen, Michael, Michela, Otto, and Stephen—read their speeches in a powerful act of personal expression. Ashley spoke of how she has come to thrive, stating, “I’m more confident now, and happy to be here at this school. Berkshire Hills has helped me grow.” Ethan talked about what it means to him to have a disability and be immersed in our community, saying, “I have autism, and I’ve learned that a lot of different people also have autism like me. It feels good to be around other people with my disability. We learn together.” Cara articulated how being self-sufficient matters to her, asserting, “I like doing things on my own. Being independent is important to me.” And Alexandra expressed her appreciation, stating, “Thank you, Dad. Thank you for letting me come here...it is really special for me to come to BHMA.” Many graduates will stay at BHMA and join our LIVE program where they will concentrate on and develop their individual interests—music, art, or general vocation. We hope everyone in the class of 2018 continues to cultivate their originality, share their talents, and celebrate themselves and their abilities.
All photos by Carly Rae Photo.