Friday, June 8, 2012

Reflections from the 6-8-12 Hungerford School at the Jerome Parker Campus

You're going to have to wait a couple of days before I am able to post pictures to accompansy this post. Why? I was too emotionally caught up in the sights and sounds that I saw at a graduation. I went to the Richard H. Hungerford School today at the Jerome Parker Campus on Staten Island. McKee High School has an inclusion program with the Hungerford School. Four of the students that attend both Hungerford and the inclusion program at McKee graduated from the school. One of the students Jalen Warren was a recipient of the Staten Island Federation of PTA scholarship. By the way, another recipient of a scholarship from the Staten Island Federation of PTAs was Juan Ayllon, a quiet, resolute general education student Okay, back to the Hungerford graduation. I was told that I would be either sitting up front or on the stage, which was fine. I got all fancied up in a nice business suit, slapped the war paint on and was ready. Here are two facts you must know. The Hungerford School graduation is very emotional because one sees students with a range of extraordinary physical, learning, and psychological challenges stand in their truth to walk, or roll with the assistance of a paraprofessional, on stage for graduation. Second, there is always a slideshow which captures the high points of the year, such as the trips and the prom. Normally I just pop in to catch the central portion of the event, to yell and cheer from the back of the auditorium, with my handy box of tissues at the ready for the emotional points. I'm from Brooklyn so I've seen a great deal in the educational field. I also know that I'm a crybaby. I'll well up with tears at a Hallmark card commercial. You can guess what happens when I see the processional at Hungerford and the slideshow. So this year, I had prepared myself for the fact that I would be on the stage. Heck I've gone every year, and every year I seem to get stronger in not crying through the entire ceremony or doing the "ugly cry." You know the ugly cry that Oprah always talks about, where one gets a headache, one's stomach and face is in a knot, and one's makeup runs. The ceremony starts, the processional happens. Okay, only light misting in the eyes. I'm pretty good. A young man is rolled on by his paraprofessional and he is beautifully dressed. His shoes are like mirrors. It's heartbreaking in terms of the level of pride and care shown in how this child and every child is dressedo n the special day. Next there is a motivational speech by one of the students, a Cristin Keller. She is a small round bundle who walks with a halting limp to the podium. She takes out a device that looks like a cell phone. She presses a button which sounds like a metronome and then she holds it to the microphone. She then proceeds to give a compelling speech, intermittently punching a button to deliver her oratory about how she has experienced growth at Hungerford. She was not able to walk or talk but through the supportive, intensive atmosphere of Hungerford, under the leadership of Dr. McInerny, she knows that her possibilities are limitless. Heavy misting in the eyes. There is a standing ovation by the entire audience. Next moment from the graduation that stuck out was the introduction of the saludatorian. A tall young man who was also the Prom King. The next moment is the introduction of the valedictorian, Thurmon Brown, part of the inclusion program from McKee. Lovely surprise. Medium misting of the eyes. Makeup still holding strong. Thurmon talks about holding three jobs, one of them in the bike shop of Hungerford School. He thanks his aunt for taking him in when his grandmother passed away. The speech is thoughtful, said with feeling, and one can see that Thurmon has practiced with the help of the master teacher Ms.Montvilo. I'm just so proud that this young man has flourished at both Hungerford and McKee. I have a smile on my face and I am enjoying the moment. Another inclusion student at McKee is called up to the microphone. Thurmon presents flowers to both of his principals: Dr. McInerny and me. Pools of water collect in my eyes. It's a miracle I didn't bump into anyone. I hug Thurmon and Araod and quickly say thank you to the audience and sit down. Medium misting of the eyes. Next comes two representatives from the Veteran's Association. They are brothers. One of the brothers organizes the New York City Veterans Association parade. Prestigious. Both brothers recently visited Ground Zero and raised and lowered two American flags. One flag is presented to Dr. McInerny, wonderfully well deserved. The second flag is presented to the young man who, in the words of one of the brothers from the Veteran's Association indicated that he wanted the bikes that he fixes "to go to the children of the wounded soldiers." They presented Thurmon Brown, a wonderfully kind young man with an open generous nature, an American flag that was raised and lowered at Ground Zero in a special ceremony. Yeah - we are talking I'm standing. I'm yelling, "Holy Cow. This is amazing. Oh my, how wonderful." I can feel my mouth and hands trembling. I bring my hands to my face and do full scale ugly cry. Yep. I cried like a baby. Wait. Thurmon realizes the enormity of what he is about to receive from the Veteran's Association. Thurmon, who is 6'3" reaches down to hug a very round, short elderly Caucasian gentleman and tears slide down his face. The whole audience was wiped away. The two assistant principals on either side of me from the Hungerford School,they teared up. Went through a half a box of tissues. Eye make up - destroyed. The ceremony was beautiful, compelling, filled with captured sweet memories and humor. I also returned back to McKee with a headache from the emotional well spring that was released at the graduation. Don't get me wrong. The ceremony was beautiful. It was also filled with a lot of tears. Thank goodness next year I'll just be part of the audience, sitting in the seats, able to blend into the background. Click here to read the article in the Staten Island Advance about the Hungerford School graduation.

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