PVPA graduates 60, with flourish



Published: 06-02-2017 2:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Artists of many kinds graduating from the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts charter school took a final bow as a student body on Thursday.

From violin trios to knockout vocals, the 60 students graduating from the South Hadley high school finished a tumultuous year with a bang at the Calvin Theatre. Seniors donned caps of many decorative flavors — from a Venus’ flytrap made of foam to a mounted plunger — and no two were the same.

The spirited foray into the arts comes on the heels of a leadership crisis that resulted in the school’s board of trustees ousting school head Scott Goldman, who was banned from Thursday’s ceremony.

Despite that dubious backdrop, students and faculty presented a united front at the graduation.

Lewis Goff, a teacher for whom students staged a walkout in April to protest rumors he was about to be fired, gave an emotional speech about carrying on after crisis.

“At PVPA and in the wider world, it has been a tough year for a lot of people,” he said. “Crisis sometimes helps us recognize that what often saves us from the abyss is our relationships.”

Trustees and faculty members praised the graduating class for the community they’ve created, and for their independent minds.

“Everyone is out of step, except you,” said Geoff Sumi, president of the board of trustees and parent to one of the grads.

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Sumi told students that though they’re leaving this community behind, they’re ready to take on the world.

“Don’t be afraid of plan B,” he said. “Life is uncertain, but often in good ways.”

Faculty speaker Will Decherd, who structured his speech around “Star Trek,” praised the class for welcoming his “geekiness” with “open and equally geeky arms.” The line came just before he lifted his pants high enough to flaunt his Tyrannosaurus-rex socks. He hailed them for coming together in times of conflict, for cheering on every single open mic act and for schooling the teachers on matters of social justice.

Student speaker Bridget MacNeill said when she shadowed at the school in sixth grade, it had her at the hot chocolate machine. Her speech was “a collage of stories” about their experience. PVPA taught her that it’s OK to be uncertain in one’s direction, to live each day passionately and “the path will end up finding you.”

“I do know one thing for certain — we will be OK. We are a massive group of weirdos,” she said. “Ones with tremendous strength, drive and talent. We will thrive.”

Teacher Molly Welch — who leapt whimsically onstage — earned the school’s Shallcross Teaching Award, which comes with $1,000 from anonymous donors.

“Fastest talker” Madeleine Fordham, also a graduating senior, gave a talk about finding her place at the school. Though she graduates as a theater major, “I never had to act like I loved this school.”

“I know what it feels like to find a place where you belong,” she said. “PVPA is home.”

Following Fordham’s speech, her grandmother told a reporter in the audience how times have changed since her days as a high schooler.

“In my day you fought to fit in,” Lenore Miller said. “These kids fight to stand out.”

Hugs abounded as graduates took their diplomas from their teachers, and applause vibrated the room.

After the ceremony, graduate Kaihla Laurent cried as she said goodbye to members of “my PVPA family.” On her cap read a glitter-hued message: “And so another adventure begins.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.