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Hartsbrook graduates cast off on new journeys

  • Graduate Alena Isa Ayvazian, center, accompanies her classmates as they sing “The Last Goodbye” by Billy Boyd Saturday during The Hartsbrook School’s graduation in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Anico Abshilava, right, hugs pedagogical chair Virginia McWilliam June 9, 2018, during The Hartsbrook School’s graduation in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Pedagogical Chair Virginia McWilliam welcomes guests June 9, 2018, during The Hartsbrook School’s graduation in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduates Hero Marguerite Hendrick-Baker, left, Caleb Julius Meredith, Fynn Emerson Wennemyr, Annabelle Sophia Phillips, Elisa Rosemary Gaffney, Henry Jordan Moskovitz, Alexander Nicholas Howe, Eliza Jing Winn Farlow, Sylvana Reed Wulsin Szuhay, Harrison James Kai Tan, Alena Isa Ayvazian and Anico Abshilava look out at their loved ones June 9, 2018, at the start of The Hartsbrook School’s graduation in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Twelve Hartsbrook School graduates look out at their loved ones June 9, 2018, during their graduation ceremony in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Alena Isa Ayvazian, center, reacts to a speech by classmates June 9, 2018, during The Hartsbrook School’s graduation in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2018

HADLEY — Nestled beneath the Mount Holyoke Range, members of the Hartsbrook School Class of 2018 closed on the high school chapter of their life and welcomed a future brimming with possibility.

In a large white tent pitched beside the rolling green hills of the Waldorf school’s campus, family members, friends and loved ones gathered for a commencement ceremony that gave each of the 12 individual graduates the opportunity to share a poem or speech.

“Three years ago, I jumped into a dark ocean not knowing what to expect, full of fears and hope,” said Anico Abshilava, a Hartsbrook senior. “It wasn’t easy to leave my usual life in Russia and start all over here. I had no idea what Waldorf education was. What was this main lesson book and where were the textbooks? Why were those students going to visit a prison? And why are there cows and chickens and sheep at the school?”

The educational curriculum and community fostered at the Waldorf school are based on the methods of Austrian philosopher, scientist, and educator Rudolf Steiner, who formed an innovative pedagogy that combined a variety of subjects such as art, agriculture, medicine and science with a unique approach.

It did not take long for Abshilava to find the community at Hartsbrook as guiding her along a journey where she was “challenged and supported to be on the vulnerable edge of my true self.”

Those teachings provided a “warm and welcoming community” with “trusting, close relationships” that Abshilava said gave her the support she needed after jumping into the mysterious waters of western Massachusetts three years ago.

The unknown, bountiful ocean that graduates will now have to set sail on and navigate upon receiving their diplomas can be likened to the lessons one receives from canoeing, said Catherine Hopkins, the elementary school teacher for the Class of 2018.

“You need to scan the landscape, you need to look, and you need to really see,” said Hopkins. “Gather your resources, get your dry bags, and find your team.”

There can be agreements on the destination, but, as in life, “know that the journey is what it’s about,” said Hopkins. She encouraged graduates to not only be prepared to take on the unexpected, but to welcome it.

During Sylvana Szuhay’s poem, attendants listened intently to her words depicting a boat making its course out alongside a dock on a cool, breezy night.

“Port and starboard lead the way into the shrouded darkness, dancing beams of light grow fainter behind us, and the scent of the sea transports us,” she said. “My inner spirit wakes in serenity and stillness of the bay — silent as the boat — comes to rest.”

At the culmination of a journey that began nearly 11 years ago for Alena Isa Ayvazian as a second grader at Hartsbrook, she took her moment at commencement to give thanks to Hopkins, a teacher she described as her North Star.

“This person who knows how to listen also taught me about love in the sense that you have to love yourself in order to love others,” said Ayvazian. “She taught me that all our actions have consequences, it’s a law of the universe. Everything is a cycle that comes back to a close at the place where it started.”

She said Hopkins has been a second mother to the whole class, and her experiences with her classmates over the past several years have created a strong connection that will outlast their days at Hartsbrook.

“I have never had the feeling of not being loved,” said Ayvazian. “From teachers, classmates, it’s so clear that everything that is done is for the students and it is a really comforting feeling.”