A bright & beautiful day greeted Berkshire Hills Music Academy's graduating Class of 2015 on May 17, as our community gathered together to celebrate this momentous occasion. Students who had completed the Two-Year Transition Program proudly received their certificates as family members, alumni, Board members, staff, and other special guests looked on.
Visionary award recipient Charles Neville was honored for his work in supporting individuals who have been historically marginilized in our society, including individuals with intellectual disabilities. Mr. Neville, a renowned saxophonist and member of the world famous Neville Brothers, has worked with BHMA students this past year- first, when he played on stage with the Performance Troupe at our Great Gatsby Gala, and second, when he engaged our entire student body in a master class held on campus.
Commencement speaker and visionary award recipient Dr. Stephen Shore was honored for his lifelong commitment to helping individuals on the autism spectrum to maximize their potential. Dr. Shore educated the audience about his own experiences living as a person on the autism spectrum, and how his family helped him to overcome significant obstacles by choosing to focus on his strengths, rather than any deficits. Dr. Shore specifically spoke to the power of music in helping all individuals to learn, noting, "A goal of music is developing interaction, mutual awareness, and trust. It is about relationship building. You can't jam with people you don't trust.....Music integrates the brain and the body, and it's exciting to see that work being done (at BHMA). The key to success is focusing on what you're good at and what you can do and like to do. Music can take you a long way to get there."
As part of the ceremony, each of our graduates had the opportunity to share their own thoughts and reflect on their experiences at BHMA. Here are some highlights!
Courtney: " The things I've learned at BHMA are walking to the Commons by myself, doing laundry, room maintenance and using the PVTA bus. My singing and piano playing have gotten a lot better. I am really proud of how much I have improved. I've learned that sometimes music can help you get through the day. If I listen to music, I feel better. I loved being in Special Olympics, on the bowling team. I won a silver medal and felt so proud, I cried happy tears."
Riley: "I have lots of friends now. I go on outings and out for lunch. I do activities on the weekends with my friends. I learned how to make my own lunch. I can also play the piano. In field work I learned different songs. I learned to look at the audience, it was hard at first. I used to be quiet. Now, I speak up more. I talk more. I sing. I make jokes."
Stephanie: "When I first came to BHMA, I felt nervous and happy at the same time. I really wanted friends. I was shy, but everyone was so nice. I made a lot of friends. I also learned about music. I've done a lot of songwriting here. It feels really good to get my feelings out. I learned about keeping my money safe and cooking. I can cook anything! I am proud of how responsible I am with my money. I used to spend way too much, and now I stick to my budget. I really look forward to living independently and cooking, cleaning, and keeping my money safe."
Ilyse: "I love BHMA. I love my friends. I love the staff. I love singing. I like fieldwork. I'm proud of going to my classes. I'm proud of doing my laundry. I put my clothes in the washer and dryer. I'm proud of my parents, and my parents are proud of me."
Emily: "I have loved music for as long as I can remember. Music can help me get through things. At BHMA, I've learned that you shouldn't be afraid to try different genres of music. I've improved so much as a singer. I learned how to cook. I might still get uncomfortable around ovens, but I know how to protect myself and be brave. In Music and Human Service class, I've learned how to set up equipment for a performance. I'm now really confident in my skills. My teacher made learning these things fun."
Rachel: "I wanted to come to Berkshire Hills because it was a good fit for me. I have so many friends now and I never feel alone. I now have the experience of living in an apartment. I'm good at keeping the apartment clean, cooking with friends or cooking by myself, and doing my laundry. I love to cook even when it's not for a class. I buy the ingredients at the store for the meals I want to make and make the plan myself."
Jasmin: "My life at BHMA has changed me. I like living on my own. I like the way I cook independently. I earned the highest level of community independence. I can walk to town and use the public bus. I maintain my room completely on my own. I have a job working in the office now. They hired me to do filing and shredding. I got hired for that job because I'm so independent now. They knew I was responsible and they could rely on me."
Franklin: "I learned to play the saxophone at BHMA. Before I started playing the saxophone I wasn't that good at all. I didn't even know how to put it together. And then I got to play with Charles Neville and it was pretty good! I worked really hard on getting better at my social skills at BHMA. This year, I got to support other people musically at fieldwork, which I really liked. I learned that when I behave in a professional way, I get to do more music. I'm really proud of everything I learned."