DEVENS -- Growth, humor, wisdom, hope, change, dedicated teachers, ideas, ideals and customized learning curves were among the topics student speeches touched on at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School graduation. And each one sounded like a success story in progress.
Jocelyn Foshay was one of 55 seniors who graduated this year and one of several student speakers.
In keeping with one of the 14-year-old school's abiding annual traditions, the invitation to speak at graduation was extended to every member of the class, which in turn invited selected faculty members to speak.
Fine weather graced the outdoor commencement, held on Wednesday, June 5.
Always an auspicious occasion, this graduation was a special event for Foshay's extended family, four generations of which were represented in the group that attended. They came from across New England and the country.
In addition to her mom, Cheryl Foshay, of Ayer, the group included Paul Alfredson, Julie Foshay, Lynn Landry, Pam and Bruce Foshay, David Rawson, 90, and his wife, Barbara, 85, of Connecticut, and Karen Pfleger and two of her children, John and five-month old Lucille, of Tucson, Arizona.
Foshay's address focused on her experience as a teaching assistant in a seventh-grade seminar. Envisioning the classroom before actually walking in, she'd imagined over-eager students who would "fall all over the place" with admiration and awe at this upper classroom with wisdom to impart. "But I forgot ... these were 12-year-olds," she said.
The real-deal was different, she said, sketching a scenario in which one student was "MIA" in the bathroom while another lay on the hallway floor outside the classroom. Inside, one student would be "battling with the Internet" and one -- maybe -- might be doing homework. Tackling this assignment would take some energy," she said, jokingly describing how she "begged, bribed and prayed to the seventh-seminar gods" for help.
It was a reality check. "As much as I'm teaching them, they're teaching me," she concluded at the time. She also saw a reflection of herself at their age. "The lack of focus, the excuses ... this was me" at their age, she said, humorously sketching her own early quirks. "I've come a long way."
Siobhan Bailey's speech also targeted her years of growth at Parker. As a freshman, she was afraid to dye her hair, even though she wanted to, Bailey said. "I spent hours at the mirror, imagining" a new hair color. But why did she yearn so much for change?
She didn't know. Nor could she answer a similar question during her college search. "Would I be different? Would I stick to the Parker way? What if I hate it?
As she heads for a tech-school this fall, Bailey said she'd finally reached a conclusion, drawing an analogy to make her point and polishing off the story nicely. "This is not my natural hair color," which would appear again in about a month. This, she said, is change, with Parker roots.
Brian O'Hara said he wasn't a natural-born scholar when he came to Parker, with dyslexia and ADD to deal with. "I wasn't a fan," he said. "School's a challenge." He struggled with math and in grade seven, tested at a fourth-grade reading level, he said.
But his mom had high hopes that Parker would make a difference and after being on the lottery waiting list for a year, he entered in the eighth-grade. He got math services and his reading improved. As teachers encouraged and supported him, set high expectations and helped him strive for excellence, he learned to trust them, and himself.
Now, he's meeting his goals and fulfilling the dreams his parents had for him, O'Hara said, wrapping his speech by paraphrasing a motivational quote that summed it all up: "Dream your life, then live your dreams!" he said.