Academy of Charlemont graduates ready to launch out of the ‘basket’

The Academy at Charlemont graduated 11 seniors on Saturday.

The Academy at Charlemont graduated 11 seniors on Saturday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ACADEMY AT CHARLEMONT

New grad Reid McVey of Williamsburg addresses the crowd during the Academy at Charmont’s graduation Saturday afternoon.

New grad Reid McVey of Williamsburg addresses the crowd during the Academy at Charmont’s graduation Saturday afternoon. FOR THE RECORDER/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Julien Toth-Cahn, left, and  Aidan Crofts share a laugh at the commencement ceremonies at The Academy of Charlemont on Saturday.

Julien Toth-Cahn, left, and Aidan Crofts share a laugh at the commencement ceremonies at The Academy of Charlemont on Saturday. The Academy at Charlemont

Santiago Zendejas-Solis, left, and Ellis Wahlstrom during The Academy of Charlemont Class of 2024 graduation ceremonies on Saturday.

Santiago Zendejas-Solis, left, and Ellis Wahlstrom during The Academy of Charlemont Class of 2024 graduation ceremonies on Saturday. The Academy at Charlemont

The Academy of Charlemont Class of 2024 at Saturday’s graduation ceremonies. From left are Santiago Zendejas-Solis, Ellis Wahlstrom, Aidan Crofts, Reid McVey and John McVey.

The Academy of Charlemont Class of 2024 at Saturday’s graduation ceremonies. From left are Santiago Zendejas-Solis, Ellis Wahlstrom, Aidan Crofts, Reid McVey and John McVey. The Academy at Charlemont

 John McVey, left, and Reid McVey at the class of 2024 graduation on Saturday.

John McVey, left, and Reid McVey at the class of 2024 graduation on Saturday. The Academy at Charlemont

  Paloma Hsiao-Shelton, left, and  Ellis Wahlstrom were all smiles at Saturday’s graduation for The Academy of Charlemont.

Paloma Hsiao-Shelton, left, and Ellis Wahlstrom were all smiles at Saturday’s graduation for The Academy of Charlemont. The Academy at Charlemont

By DIANE BRONCACCIO

For the Recorder

Published: 06-09-2024 1:38 PM

Modified: 06-09-2024 11:04 PM


CHARLEMONT — Everyone in the Class of 2024 was a commencement speaker at the Academy at Charlemont, and each of the 11 new graduates reminisced and shared their graduation thoughts with cheering friends and family on Saturday afternoon.

“Today is the least important day of my time at the Academy,” said Jasper Butler-Kurth of Easthampton. “Every day, I’ve had the honor … of learning in amazing classes, and those classes have truly changed me for the better.”

“Today is the equivalent of ‘payday’ — the day where our effort is rewarded with a piece of paper with abstract meaning. But it is the community and the learning that has made me want to go to school almost every day of my four years with this community. The personal growth and sense of community, not to mention the fun that this school has offered me, means more to me than being able to say I am a graduate.”

Hazel Berner of Northampton had recently visited her old elementary school and remembered “how grown-up the seniors looked, how out of reach it all felt. To my 8-year-old self, it seemed a whole lifetime away.”

And now that she herself is a graduating senior, “It is weird, being confronted by what you once were — and as your life goes on, and you have been so many different things,” she continued. “I hope I will end up looking back on those versions of myself … with love. And I can’t wait to be witness to all the changing, aging versions of the people I love.”

Paloma Huin Hsiao-Shelton of Plainfield said she believes hard work is essential for creating joy and fulfillment in one’s life. But along with physical labor, she said, “mental labor — the fortitude to face the beautiful and ugly” is also required.

“My teachers and peers and family have taught me about who I want to be in the future,” she said. “They have taught me just how much work it takes to fulfill their lessons and how necessary it is to try.

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“In a world led by definite answers, be flexible and see every shade of gray between black and white,” she continued. In a world full of hatred and jealousy, be kind and generous. In a world where depression and self suppression is becoming the norm, bloom. It IS hard work.”

The Class of 2024 presented several Class Gifts: a traditional $100 to start a treasury for the incoming 6th-grade Class of 2031; a birdbath; and $200 to three Academy departments: sports, the school kitchen and the Drama Department.

Co-head of School Nora Bates Zale, of the Academy’s Class of 2000, metaphorically compared the students’ educational journey to a hot-air balloon ride requiring lots of preparedness and the ability to steer through challenging wind shifts.

“You are joining a decades-old club of humans who were also once held so tightly within the basket of this little community, who once felt how I imagine you might feel right now — both thrilled at the prospect of launching out of the basket into the unknown, and also slightly terrified at what that will really look like, how that will really feel,” said Bates-Zale.

“None of what comes next is meant to be easy,” she continued, “but, you’ve all learned … that you can do hard things. You can, you have, and you will. And please make sure to float on by here from time to time and share tales of your adventures. We’ll always have space in the basket for each of you,” she added. “Now, let’s get you some diplomas!”

Graduates

Hazel Berner, Northampton; Jasper Butler-Kurth, Easthampton; Aidan Crofts, Shelburne Falls; Paloma Hsiao-Shelton, Plainfield; Skye Loomis, Williamsburg; John McVey, Williamsburg; Reid McVey, Williamsburg; Aiden Sim, Leyden; Julien Toth-Cahn, Cummington; Ellis Wahlstrom, Whitingham, Vermont; and Santiago Zendejas-Solis, Rowe.

Academic Awards

Grade 6: Charlie Korden; Grade 7: Seeley Palmer; Grade 8: Hadley Schiff; Grade 9: Katje Gibb-Buursma; Grade 10: Lucas Tikkala-Cutler; Grade 11: Raia LeBreux; Grade 12: Paloma Hsiao-Shelton.

Fine Arts Awards

Fine Arts Award for Work in Performance: Ellis Wahlstrom; Fine Arts Award for Work in Visual Arts: Raia LeBreux; McKay Art Scholarship: Paloma Hsiao-Shelton.

Athletic Awards

Outstanding Lower School Athletes: Isabela Boehmer and Ezekiel Mirin; Outstanding Upper School Athletes: Paloma Hsiao-Shelton and Ole Brenizer; Coaches’ Award: John McVey.

Other Categories

Ellen MacLeish Zale Award for Community Service: Lucas Watkin. Named in honor of a longtime faculty member, alumni parent and founder of the Community Service Council, this award recognizes a student who demonstrates exceptional commitment to service in the broader community.

Robert Jaros Citizenship Award: Ole Brenizer. This award, named in honor of a former parent and longtime trustee and board chair, celebrates commitment to social justice, selfless service and concern for the well-being of the academy’s community.

Middle School Jane Grant Honor Council Award: Seeley Palmer; Upper School Jane Grant Honor Council Award: Parker Lane. Named in honor of a retired faculty member and longtime mentor of students, these awards recognize personal adherence to and effective advocacy for the principles embodied in the Honor Code.

Spirit of Zephyr Award: Paloma Hsiao-Shelton. This award, named for an alumnus who lost his life not long after graduating, acknowledges individuals who engage in the joy of being part of something bigger, the importance of being ridiculous, and how impactful play and action can be together.

Will Sparks Award: parents Jessica & Adam Gibb-Buursma. Named for a longtime and famously hardworking staff member, this award recognizes adults in the community who give selflessly of their time and talent to advance the school’s mission.

Class of 2028, recognized for their transition from middle to upper school: Isabela Boehmer, Serias Handschuh, Roosi Isupov, Ezekiel Mirin, Thomas Perez, August Petrovato, Hadley Schiff and Madelyn Schott.