‘Magic has happened within our halls’
In a graduation season rife with themes of overcoming adversity, Lehigh Valley Charter HS for the Arts’ graduates relayed personal reflections of perseverance at Zoellner Arts Center June 13.
But not even tragedy and life-changing pandemic evoked a somber note from the life-affirming music and arts at this school.
After a terrible accident in her youth left her with a traumatic brain injury, student speaker Madilyn Grose was ostracized and disenchanted until chance brought her to Charter Arts. “My social connections were affected greatly and eventually I despised going to school. In the beginning of eighth grade, my mom told me about this school where they spend half the day making art. I figured if I had to go to school, I might as well go somewhere where I could do something I love.
“Here I found students who were willing to work with me and help me pursue every goal I had,” Grose said. “They made me a better human and a better student. I also found social connections that I’d been missing for a long time. When I met the seniors on the first day of freshman year I didn’t have any friends, and I picked out a table in the cafeteria to eat alone. After about 10 minutes a group of seniors came to check on me and they continued to come back and sit with me every day.
“Those are the type of students who go to Charter Arts – the type that don’t just see you in the hallways and smile, but come to help you, encourage you, and accept you exactly as you are. Charter Arts gives you the opportunity to see that anything is possible. Without this school I don’t know where I would be. Some people think my life is a sob story, but quite frankly it’s the complete opposite: I’m a success story.
“Thank you Charter Arts for not only changing my life, but for saving it.”
Student speaker Juliann Williams said everyone at the school, from the educators to the vitamin D-deprived lower classmen whose days on the first and second floors of the building lack windows, had an impact on her life and provided sanity when she was afraid she had none. “There’s a quote by Henry Adams: ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’ I want to represent all of us when I say, ‘thank you.’
“Thank you for putting up with us, for educating us, and for being there in times when we felt we didn’t have anyone else. They influenced me to become a teacher myself.”
Saying everyone at the school fits together like a puzzle, Williams examined many pieces of life and took meaning from its complexity. “The way we are raised is a piece of the puzzle, the people you surround yourself with, the happy moments, and certainly the bad ones. The moments that make you question yourself, your reality, and whether you’ll make it through this; those pieces are most important. They shape you and make you stronger.”
Revealing to the audience that she was a victim of domestic violence, Williams said, “Regardless of how bad a situation may be, I want you to acknowledge it and understand the growth that comes from it. I’ve experience things I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. I won’t stand here and say I’m made of iron, but I’ve accepted what happened and not let it rule my life. The world is not always a kind place, and you’ll find yourself adding another negative piece to the puzzle, but no matter what happens you’re stronger.,
“Remember all the things you have to be proud of. You’ll continue to figure out where all the little pieces fit in the world. I hope you all find peace and joy and that life gets better for every single one of you, and I hope you find your puzzle is complete with all the love and happiness you deserve.”
Peering at the vast audience, CEO Dr. Carise Comstock deemed some clichéd phrases unworthy of the graduates before continuing in earnest. “I was looking for inspirational quotes for my graduation speech, but nothing really seemed to represent what the class of 2022 has been through the last few years, specifically a worldwide pandemic and a variety of challenges facing our world and our community that have impacted us in many ways. This one jumped out at me: ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.’
“You have made mistakes and important choices to create the best version of yourself that is here tonight, starting with auditioning for Charter Arts a few years ago.
“Today you’re ready to take on the rest of the world,” Comstock said. “We want you to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, even if it’s way outside your comfort zone. Never give up, stay positive, and when the going gets tough, stop and take a deep breath and then keep going.”
Comstock said the 151 graduates are already on the right path with an accumulated $3.7 million in scholarships to get them started.
“I know you’re ready for the next stage in your life. Use your voice in ways that will impact the world.”
Interim Principal Dr. Jennifer Levernier lauded the graduates’ collective fortitude through trying times, saying, “For the past four years we’ve had ups and down, we’ve had good days – even really great days – but we also had hard days, and some days where we had to push through challenges just to get to the next day. But that’s what life is all about.
“What makes all of you so unique and special is how you choose to live through these different types of days. On those great days, you find a way to capture the joy you’re feeling, but most of all you make those hard days meaningful.”
“We’ve seen lots of changes together,” Levernier said. We have a common understanding that the arts are what ties us together as human beings. I couldn’t be prouder of them or of their accomplishments. I’m pleased that Charter Arts cultivates an atmosphere for our students to grow and learn through the arts. Magic has happened within our halls.
“They put so much heart and passion into what they do every single day. Spontaneous creativity is everywhere. I encourage you all to really take a hold of your future and really do something amazing. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back from being as amazing as I know you all are. I know that you’ll continue to make a difference on all the live that you touch.”