Off-beat BART graduation includes clapping in unison, doughnuts, 'Uptown Funk'


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ADAMS — Karmic gifts and garden growing as themes, reflections on the difficulties of clapping in unison and compiling portfolios and brags of being "better than every other senior class in Berkshire County" made for a typically off-beat Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School graduation ceremony on Saturday.

The school's ninth graduation saw 23 "gems," as Executive Director Julia Bowen called them, receive diplomas.

English teacher Sean Keogh brought down the house by regaling the audience with philosophy-cum-advice, via a story.

On a sophomore field trip to New York City where everything was going wrong, Keogh said he brought his students into a food court to settle down.

Eating a seaweed salad and looking out the window, Keogh noticed a shift. He began thinking of how much he loved the city. A band suddenly struck up a rendition of "Uptown Funk."

Just as he was commenting on this to a student, a man with a box walked up and gave the group "eight artisanal-quality, nectar of the gods doughnuts."

The takeaway?

"If you are open to the universe, willing to allow yourself to revel in its joys, the universe repays you," Keogh said. "Sometimes with free doughnuts. Sometimes with a sweet pair of $10 Chuck Taylors. Sometimes with accidental eye contact with the next love of your life. But you have to pay attention and prepare yourself to receive these gifts."

He added, "It's not the only way to tell that story. There are people who do not share my belief in karmic mysticism, that can tell an equally plausible story that goes: If you sit in front of a doughnut shop when it is closing for the evening, there is a strong possibility you will get free doughnuts. That story is true too, but I don't like that story. It does nothing for me. I want to be a guy whose joy is rewarded by the universe with free doughnuts."

Keogh then formally bestowed upon the students rights to their own stories.

"The thing I have liked most about being an adult is I am in control of my own story," he said. "I am thrilled that you will be out in the real world, contributing awe-inspiring stories."

Two class speakers, Noah Clayton Chicoine and Courtney Margaret Munson, both shared stories of treasured hijinks with peers and staff alike.

Munson called the class both "incredible" and "completely and utterly dysfunctional."

"We can solve Rubik's Cubes in seconds, make microscopic origami and can be trusted to make lifelong decisions, such as where we want to go to college," Munson said. "But when asked to clap in unison, it's like we're being asked to do the impossible."

But then she walked to the front of the stage and demonstrated that the class had indeed learned how to do it, prompting cheers from the audience.

Chicoine expounded upon lessons that had little to do with academics.

"I'm willing to bet it was the days we learned calculus from baby books, watched videos of our teacher's daughters being adorable, talked about the world instead of chemistry and discussed conspiracies instead of physics that made us who we are today," Chicoine said.

The school's assistant principal, Miles Wheat, equated gardening to teaching. Both involve "the unfolding of a process we don't really understand" where "we feel a little bit out of control," he said.

"Here we are," Wheat said. "It's harvest time. You must be what gardeners would call a 'hearty variety.' I would love to commiserate with you all one day about the joys and frustrations of growing a garden."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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