Hartsbrook celebrates graduation of ‘loving family’

  • Students with the Hartsbrook School Orchestra await the start of graduation ceremonies in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • The graduating class of 2022 at the Hartsbrook School sings Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” during Saturday’s graduation ceremony. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Liz Wills-O’Gilvie delivers the keynote address during Saturday’s graduation ceremony at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

For the Gazette
Monday, June 20, 2022

HADLEY — Against the backdrop of rolling green hills, family, friends and well-wishers gathered Saturday morning under a large white tent on the campus of the Hartsbrook School for the class of 2022 graduation.

Facing difficulties, embracing change, and finding strength and wisdom in those who came before us were themes that ran through the day’s speeches.

Hartsbook pedagogical chair Virginia McWilliam told graduates that they are living in turbulent times, in which instant communication can provide a constant stream of information on “inhumanity after inhumanity.”

“As young people going out into the world you are being asked to make sense of a world that has been turned upside down, and you will need a good deal of determination to bring it back to what matters,” she said.

Quoting the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, McWilliam noted that “where there is sorrow there is also holy ground,” and it is there that a metamorphosis is waiting to happen.

“Collective devastation and heartbreak can lead us into individual action, and that can turn the tide towards making a more beautiful world,” she said.

Student speaker Raphael Hendrick-Baker reminded his fellow graduates that while long-standing traditions may seem comforting in ways, things are meant to change, and in that change a new “more beautiful” outcome may arise.

“Things are meant to fall apart and then be reassembled and reimagined,” he said. “We must allow ourselves to shape our communities and then later on, be shaped by new generations.”

Hendrick-Baker also noted the importance of informed debate.

“We are not afraid of healthy conflict and thrive on it, but when the larger, more important issues come up, we unite with a strong, unbreakable speaking-truth-to-power mentality,” he said, referring to his class as a united, “loving, intense and unafraid family.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, who chairs the Springfield Food Policy Council and the board of Gardening the Community, an urban agriculture organization. She is the project adviser to the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, and the founder and manager of the City Soul Farmers Market.

She also works for social justice organizations, schools and universities across the country, developing pathways and curriculum for undoing systemic racism.

Addressing the parents, Wills-O’Gilvie said, “Good for you for being brave enough to not put your kid on a path that was going to crank out another widget, because widgets in my opinion haven’t fixed a thing.”

In her address, she shared that her grandmothers were sharecroppers and that their grandmothers were enslaved. She said that while this is a heavy thing to carry, hearing whispers from her ancestors as she walks on and works the land, gives her the muscle to hold that history and take pride in how they may feel about her accomplishments.

“I seem to have their voices in my head and I count on them, and I trust them, and I never want to fail them,” she said.

Wills-O’Gilvie told the graduates that they will one day fill a similar role for those who come after them.

“We are the ancestors, so start living today the way that you would like to be remembered,” she said. “Don’t worry about what people think — we all have opinions, but the only ones that matter are yours, so you keep pushing and keep questioning.”

Those presenting diplomas to the students honored each graduate with stories of their contributions to the Hartsbrook community and memorable moments of their time at the school.

“My favorite part of the graduation is how personalized it is when they get their diplomas,” Emily Boutilier of Amherst said. “It really demonstrates the benefit of a small school and, as a parent, it is great to know that they see and understand the students.”

Boutilier’s daughter Samantha, who attended Hartsbrook for three years, said that she enjoyed the small community at the school and is now looking forward to studying biology at the University of Vermont.

The 2022 graduation marked the return to the school’s regular graduation ceremony, free of attendance restrictions due to COVID-19.

“This year there are grandparents and friends and the whole school is here, so that makes it much more festive,” Franz Pedit, whose son Lysander McCune-Pedit was graduating, said.

McCune-Pedit had attended the school since he was in pre-school and is now planning to go to UMass to study architecture.

“It’s really nice to see them evolve and move forward,” Pedit said.

Bett Schumacher of Amherst echoed Pedit’s feelings and said her family was delighted to be able to attend the graduation of her daughter Stella Rennard.

“There are 10 of us here today from all over the country including California, Chicago and Boston,” Schumacher said. “We are all very excited to be here together.”

While most of the 20 graduates are planning to attend colleges such as UMass, the University of Vermont, Sara Lawrence, Vassar, and Skidmore, some are planning a gap year, and one will join the U.S. Air Force.