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PVPA seniors demonstrate individuality at graduation

NORTHAMPTON — When Hannah Mathews wrote her college essay about the impact that the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School had on her life, she only let a few people read it before sending it off.

It felt not like editing just words on a page, she said, but like editing a part of her.

Mathews was one of two student speakers at a colorful graduation ceremony Thursday night in the Calvin Theatre, where the 61-member class expressed their individuality through artfully decorated caps and gowns.

Mathews told her classmates that she has “no doubt” she is who she is because of her time spent at PVPA. When she entered the school as a 7th grader, she said, she stayed quiet to avoid being bullied, and clung to old friends to avoid having to talk to new people.

“It took almost five years, but PVPA changed all of that,” said Mathews, who will attend Vassar College with the goal of becoming a doctor.

Waiting outside before the festivities began, Lark Wicinas, 18, of Northampton, explained that the papier-mache giraffe on her cap was a testament to her own height.

“I’m already 6 feet tall, so I just decided to go more with that,” she said. She created the tall neck of the giraffe with a trellis used to support tomato plants.

Atop the cap of Mia Wurgaft, 17, of Amherst, was a model of the USS Starship Enterprise from “Star Trek,” which she said was a tribute to her family’s fondness for the show.

Ducks were the theme of the graduation garb for Alana Young, 18, of Belchertown. On her cap were several rubber duckies, and lining the back of her gown were cloth water lilies. She explained that she had recently been in a play where her character’s name was “Duckling,” so she decided to play this up at graduation.

“It just kind of goes with the PVPA philosophy,” Young said, to take things that may seem commonplace and make them more exciting.

The excitement began with a performance of R. Kelly’s “The World’s Greatest” by graduates Chelsea Mock, Brittany Morgan and Rosa Scavron. While they sang, a large screen at the front of the theater flashed photographs of the class members when they were children alongside pictures of them now. As the slideshow of photos went on, the audience’s cheers grew louder, as did the singing.

Instead of filing in, the graduates danced in to the theme from “Jaws,” the theme from “Chariots of Fire” and “Fergalicious” by Fergie.

In opening remarks, Head of School Scott Goldman spoke fondly of the class’s choice of a senior prank. He was “overjoyed and speechless,” he said, to open the door to his office last week and find it filled with dozens of new scarves.

“I now know that not only can I wear a scarf, I can rock a scarf,” he said, wearing one that evening.

To the class’s amusement, he also spoke of having attended the “Polonius School” of public speaking — alluding to the irony of the line in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” which the character Polonius spoke at the start of a lengthy speech.

Quoting Polonius again just before he left the stage, Goldman said, “Oh, I am slain — I will miss you class of 2014. I love you.”

Sam Wardlaw, the other student speaker, said he was grateful to have attended a school where teachers are called by their first names and students can do their work outside. Wearing a tambourine on his cap, he also spoke of how he particularly enjoyed having numerous opportunities to play music with his peers.

“This is our day. This is our moment,” he told his classmates. “We are graduating.”

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