OPENING REMARKS

Welcome to our fourth annual awards and graduation ceremony.  This year, our theme is looking to the future through problem-solving, utilizing every tool at our disposal – science, design, ingenuity, social intelligence, and intuition, which is based on both the experiences of the individual and all of humanity. In other words, our collective learning.  

 

Utilizing our collective learning to problem solve is, of course, what is needed to both cure COVID-19 and get us to Mars, both worthy goals.  The global pandemic and subsequent quarantine present numerous opportunities for thinking outside of the box and problem-solving.  The SpaceX launch and space station docking open our minds to the future.  Say what you will about Elon Musk, but the man is an innovator and extreme problem solver.

 

“Tomorrow is a brand-new day that’s never been touched.”  This is one of the many quotable quotes from episode one of the television series Modern Love. I found it – and the episode – inspirational and affirming. To me, this sentiment is the essence of a forward-thinking mindset, one that is invaluable when working on a close, personal level with other humans, as we do in education.

 

Forward-thinking is also a hopeful mindset; one that looks to problem-solving and positive change as the necessary work of building a better tomorrow. The conversation begins with, “What can we do better?”  Oh, there are so many things.  I don’t know about all of you, but I have ideas about how to improve things at least every other minute. The human condition could be much improved if only I remembered to write some of it down.

 

Frame the issue in terms of future thought. Yes, ask “Why did this happen?” but then ask, “Where did we go off course? How can we refocus on what is important?” This begs the follow-up question, “What is important?”

 

Importance is subjective, of course, but suppose we focus on the future goals of the individual or group in question? Setting goals, both short-term and long-term, is another way to use forward-thinking as a tool for positivity and optimism. Goals need to be massaged, adjusted, discussed, and tweaked often to keep them both relevant and mindful. They may change drastically from month-to-month, or from global crisis to global crisis.

 

The actual goals, themselves, are not the most important thing. Setting those goals and looking at how to achieve them is the forward-thinking piece. Almost every long-term goal that a child might have will necessitate a strong, foundational knowledge base, which requires an education, degree, or certification of some kind. In working towards a goal, any goal, there is also the requirement of positivity, discipline, and many other valuable lessons. 

 

It is our job as parents and educators to plan for changes in direction; to keep goal changes or adjustments as easy and seamless as possible. With strong preparation, experience, and broad foundational knowledge comes deeper confidence and the assurance that those doors will be open for our students; that they are prepared to face the challenges ahead; that they are secure in the knowledge that this, too, shall pass. When it does, it is my sincere hope that all of our graduates will be ready to take full advantage of the myriad opportunities available to them when the next new day arrives.


 

GRADUATION

Adaptation and problem-solving were certainly the norms this past academic year, as well.  We packed up, moved across town in just days, celebrating our grand opening with incredible enthusiasm and teamwork! Just as we were getting ready for an ugly sweater showdown, EWoW closed unexpectedly, facilitating the single best middle school holiday party EVER!  Hello, Frozen II. The new year arrived and EWoW was a happy, thriving place filled with deep conversations, excitement for spring, and plans for a fun summer ahead. 

 

Well, life is what happens when we are making other plans. Within weeks, we became living history. Again, with a relentless spirit, EWoW got back to the business of learning - distance learning. We all had a huge adjustment period to get through.  It was inspirational to see how quickly everyone adapted and moved forward with classes. Some of you truly thrived being at home.  Though this year did not end the way anyone would have planned, it is one we will never forget.  We made it through together, as a team, and we are closer for it!

 

Today is graduation, which tends to be an emotional day; one that is indisputably my favorite day of the year.  Please make sure you have tissues nearby.  I cry the teachers cry, the parents cry, it’s completely normal.  We cry because we are all so invested in the success of these students.  We have put a huge amount of time and effort into helping them along the way and, in doing so, we have also come to truly care for them and to root for them.

 

There is so much to celebrate, and it gets more elaborate every year.  This year we again have a huge number of graduates – well, at least for Education without Walls – but it flipped from last year.  We have 7 students graduating from middle school and 2 graduating from high school.  

 

But I want to emphasize that this event, at its heart, is meant to celebrate our community as a whole, and the hard work that all our community members put in.  This event is not about individual recognition.  When a student receives an award here, it is a celebration of their work, of course, but in a larger sense, it is a nod to everyone who helped them to work through their difficulties over the course of the year – friends, teachers, mentors, parents, and peers.  Here, we spend a lot of time acknowledging those people who have, in some way, transformed themselves or their community for the better. 

 

SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD

It has become tradition – I think I can say that now? – to begin each commencement with a Special Recognition Award.  This year, our award is going to a young man who is the definition of forward-thinking and positive problem-solving.  This young man has had to overcome so many obstacles in his educational career and – at least here at EWoW – he meets those obstacles with optimism and humor.  He keeps on trying and trying again, adapting to the ups and downs that have marked his life for the past few years with a smile, a shrug, and a commitment to try again.  This past year, I feel that it is safe to say, his hard work and effort have truly paid off.  He now attends classes consistently and has achieved not only excellent grades but also many accolades from his teachers.  

 

He is a very bright young man, but make no mistake, this has been an exceptionally long and difficult road that he has traveled.  It’s not over yet, but this past year has been absolutely transformational for Scott Taylor.  I am so proud of you and I look forward with great anticipation to the next couple of years that we will, hopefully, get to spend with you.  Let’s read a few words from some of your teachers, Scott.

 

From Monica Vazquez: "You are an example to everyone at EWoW! The way you decided to take charge of your learning process is admirable. By being present and on time, by having all your resources during class and by speaking the foreign language in front of your classmates to practice your pronunciation... you showed us how to be better students, committed to our goals. ¡Excelente Trabajo!"

 

From Spencer Lord: I would like to nominate Scott Taylor for perseverance and excellence in Chemistry. Initially, I could tell he was intimidated by the subject, but by years-end, he was very confident in his knowledge. His participation has been astounding (even when he just wants to light everything on fire) and has set a terrific example of how to participate academically, as well as keeping the subject matter light with humor. He is a pleasure to have in class.

 

From Bunny: Scotty: having him in class this year was fun! He’s smart, confident & very capable. My favorite moment this year would have to be the ugly Xmas sweater contest, he pulled out all the stops!

 

COMPASS AWARD

My favorite student will always be that kid who challenges me.  The one who fights for every scrap of freedom; for every nuance of respect; for their privacy and their right to BE who they are.  In so doing, they learn to advocate for themselves, and this often leads them to advocate for those around them.  Guiding them proves to be incredibly difficult and, annoyingly, they insist on making their own choices on their own terms.

 

At EWoW, these fighters are my compass, because they call me on – well everything.  Their contribution can be very subtle, going unnoticed over the course of the year.  I wanted to find a way to acknowledge these kids.  They are always the hardest to say goodbye to and I think, often, that they are totally unaware of how much I will miss them.  These truly one of a kind kids help me to keep Education without Walls on course without even realizing it.  Thank you all so much for your honesty and willingness to ask the tough questions.

 

Virginia Steen

Zack Dempster

 

I would like to acknowledge two parents who fill a similar role, although they do it with more style and subtlety, of course.  They are excellent, clear, communicators who challenge me often.  Education without Walls would not be the same without them. Thank you both so much for your honesty and willingness to ask the tough questions.

 

Lynn Harrington

Dana Jonson

 

PRESENTATION OF MIDDLE SCHOOL DIPLOMAS

Raising a child or helping to raise a child is a battle on so many levels.  Part of the mission is to help them to see the brilliance of who they are as individuals; to help them to see their gifts and unique abilities.  Each of us is a crazy, mixed-up, one-of-a-kind package.  In doing this - helping them to see their own brilliance – I come to believe in them totally and completely.

 

Here at EWoW, kids are placed according to their maturity level and academic ability, not by age.  These seven students are ready to move up to a more individualized and self-prescribed curriculum.  They have worked hard this year, some academically, others socially.  We are excited to see where their high school careers take them.

 

8th Grade Diploma Recipients

 

  • Ariel Battlestein

  • Sam Casbarro

  • Carter Casbarro

  • Carolyn Huegi 

  • Gwen Moran 

  • Antonia Rodriguez

  • Kyla Steen


LYONS HEART AWARDS

This award is inspired by the Purple Heart, which is earned by members of the United States Armed forces who are wounded in action.  It is specifically a combat decoration.  I am of the considered opinion that every parent should be a recipient of this award.   The Lyons Heart Award, named for former student Ben Lyons, is awarded to students who have worked through continuous and ongoing struggles over the course of the year.  Because they struggle with forces that they often cannot control, these are the kids who, just by walking through the door, make my day.  I am always happy to see them and their successes are much of what drives me through each day.  They are an inspiration.

 

James Tong

Sarah Brand

Emma Zychowski

 

MEDALS: ACADEMIC, SPECIAL RECOGNITION & CITIZENSHIP

 

Academic Awards

Awarded by teachers to students who have shown grit in their studies, as well as support for both their peers and their teachers. These awards are given to students who elevate those around them in a class or subject.  These awards are not necessarily for the ‘A’ student, but for the kids who show the most character in class.

 

ADULTING 101

Mary Louise Mapes Houldin

 

From Theresa McSpedon: Perseverance and excellence in attitude – Mary Houldin.  Mary approached each new topic with openness and exuberance.   She was always positive and upbeat even in topic areas she had no previous knowledge and found to be difficult.  Mary was determined to master each new skill.  She would go home and practice on her own as well.

 

ART

High School Pottery

Abigail Baird

Henry Steen

 

Honorable Mention:

Mary Louis Mapes Houldin

Brendan Parker

 

Middle School Pottery:

Kyla Steen

Sophia Horn

 

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGES

French

Mary Louise Mapes Houldin

 

Latin

Antonia Rodriguez

From Sandy Ho: Antonia excelled in Latin pronunciation and good class participation as well as assignments.

 

Japanese

Gwen Moran

From Sandy: I can tell Gwen has really put in a lot of time outside of class!  Congratulations on your hard work.

 

Spanish

Scott Taylor (see Special Recognition Award)

 

MATHEMATICS

Math Lab/Algebra

Hayden Hughes

Antonia Rodriguez

 

From Cara: Both had EXCELLENT perseverance and attitude in math.  Antonia always looked forward to math class and worked diligently on assignments throughout the year, and became a better problem solver, and also developed a greater sense of how to ask the right questions that would increase her understanding.  Hayden always arrived at math class with a passion to learn more, worked enthusiastically and diligently on all assignments, and had insight that helped the class power ahead to new concepts.  They both exhibited excellent dedication to both learning and the subject matter and fostered the creativity and imagination necessary to understand Algebra more deeply. 

 

Algebra I

Broghan Dowler

 

Geometry

Brendan Parker

 

SCIENCE

Chemistry

Scott Taylor (see Special Recognition Award)

 

SOCIAL SCIENCE

Christopher Cararra

Mary Louise Mapes Houldin

 

WRITING

Ariel Battlestein

Look for a Pulitzer Prize in this incredible young writer’s future!

 

CITIZENSHIP AWARDS

Support of Students & Staff – Thank you!!

 

Students

  • Finn

    • Aidan Doyle

    • Justin Setzler

    • Henry Steen* Training

    • Sophia Horn* Training

    • Dima Marker

    • Skyelar D’Angelo-Sylvia

    • Chase Harrington* Puppy energy!

  • Chores

    • Brendan Parker

    • Dmitry Marker

  • Mentoring

    • Elijah Battlestein 

      • (The progenitor of this idea and a wonderful, insightful problem-solver!)

    • Christopher Cararra

    • Abigail Luis

    • Zack Dempster

  • Event Planning

    • Skyelar D’Angelo-Sylvia

    • Virginia Steen

  • Exceptional Character: rising to a challenge, requesting more difficult classes, working through tough issues, setting a good example

    • Sophia Horn

    • Broghan Dowler

    • James Irish

    • Aiden Behuniak

    • Ariel Battlestein

  • Scott Taylor: Radix Assists

  • Mary L. M. Houldin: Honorary PoD

  • Special Mention …

    • Sam and Carter Casbarro: Biggest Flexers

From Tucker … Sam and Carter definitely win the award for the biggest flexers at Education Without Walls. They are in constant motion, ready to launch into a tangent about whatever news sneaker or Fortnite skin is popular at the time. They talk in a casual manner to everyone they know, including teachers and upperclassmen. To say they add energy to a room is an understatement. Some mornings at Education Without Walls, the whole building is quiet - coffee gets poured - and high school students try to wake themselves from staying up too late. All is calm and sedated until Sam and Carter burst through the door. Their energy and zest is infectious and brightens the atmosphere of the whole building. Some days it feels as if Education Without Walls wouldn’t wake up if it wasn’t for Sam and Carter’s brilliant smiles, greeting, roasting, laughing, and chatting with every passerby. The life that these two inject into our community is irreplaceable, and the lack of their presence will be uncanny for returning students next year.

 

    • Ben Soule: Most time in Lockey’s Office

Ben and I got to know each other very well this year!  While he and I did not always agree on the best course of action, I can honestly say that I love hanging out with you, Ben.  You are a genuinely lovely person who cares deeply for others, enjoys chatting about almost anything, is a deep thinker, and a challenge, for sure.  You are also a terrific decorator and search the internet faster than anyone I know.  Such an amazing mind!  It was a year to remember for both of us and one that I hope we will be able to build on for years to come.

  

 

Parents 

Lynn Harrington: PoD & Parent Organization Leader

Kristen Dowler: PoD/Friday Brunch

Michele Zychowski: Finn

Victoria Khasanshina: PoD Extraordinaire & Substitute Teacher

Jason Behuniak: Game Time/Garage Clean Up

Ben Moran: Lunchtime Fundraiser

Karin Soule: Property Beautification (Wait until you all get back on site!)

Peter Houldin: Community Involvement (Seriously, he showed up to everything, answered every email request for help, and always pitched in!)

  

PRESENTATION OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS

We have two seniors leaving us this year.

 

Skyelar D’Angelo-Sylvia 

Our first is Skyelar D’Angelo-Sylvia.  Skyelar came to EWoW with only one question, “Can I wear my beanie in class?”  I replied, “Of course.”  That was all he needed and that was pretty much the way he moved through life at Education without Walls for the next two years, with a laid-back, relaxed attitude.  Although he tended to be solitary and private in many ways, he also truly enjoyed the company of the other students at EWoW and facilitated social gatherings at every turn.  Skyelar was the driving force behind both the talent show last year and the several lock-in events that EWoW hosted for the high school students.  He was also the progenitor of the music game that it seemed everyone was playing before the quarantine.  EWoW will not be the same without you Skyelar.  I hope you come back to visit often!

 

Sarah Elisabeth Brand

Sarah is graduating after three years of high school.  When she asked me to help her accomplish this goal, I agreed, of course, but I wasn’t the one who had to do all of the extra work to make it happen.  This is the reason I have such trepidation about how a three-year plan will work out.  Sarah did not disappoint.  She has proven herself over and over and over again this year on so many levels.    Sarah is extremely independent and capable, requiring very little instruction to complete a task well and with alacrity.  She is organized, has strong personal boundaries, and communicates her goals clearly, helping others to help her. 

 

Sarah has a winning, ready smile, able to brighten a room like no one else. She is quiet but incredibly observant and a student of the human condition, which proves advantageous in her work as an internet influencer.  Congratulations on your many achievements and good luck on your new journey in South Carolina!

 

PRESENTATION OF FIRST IN CLASS AWARDS

See if you can guess the student before they are named ...

 

This Freshman skipped 8th grade and took on a full course load this year, actually requesting (yep) to be in an Honors level math class.  He has worked his tail off to make the transition from middle school to high school, with excellent attendance, class participation, and attitude.  This student is always ready to help with tasks around EWoW when asked and is always ready with a joke or smile.  He never takes anything too seriously, except, of course, his work.  He has been with us since he was 10 years old and, I think I can honestly say, everyone at EWoW totally adores him, especially me.  Broghan Dowler, you are the First in Class for our freshman students this year!

 

This Sophomore has already been discussed, probably too much, but I will reiterate that he was the recipient of two academic awards, is always happy to help out, actually offered to be a teacher’s assistant for the middle school Spanish classes and has just generally rocked his Sophomore year.  Scott Taylor, you are First in your Sophomore class this year.  Congratulations!

 

This Junior was a clear choice this year for First in his Class.  He is a consummate leader in every meaning of the word.  He is honest, friendly, protective, intelligent, warm, and genuinely interested in the health and well-being of his community.

 

There was a meme going around for a while that he was the president of EWoW & maybe even one day would be THE President. Though we had our fun commenting on his presidential nature, it is significant to note that this really was a measure of the respect afforded him by this community: it is his natural propensity to lead. He is the type of person that knows how to assert his intelligence in a way that commands attention and respect from those around him. He was a pleasure to have in class and his classmates enjoyed his insights and ability to drive conversations. He is funny, intelligent, kind, and a true friend to his peers. He has expressed many times that he does not plan to run for President, unfortunately. But, whatever the case may be, Chris will be successful, lead with grace, and make a lot of friends along the way.  Congratulations, Christopher Cararra, you are first in your class!

 

FIRST IN SCHOOL

Mary Louise Mapes Houldin

 

This high school student came to EWoW at the tail end of the last year. Integrating herself into an entirely new community late in the year was, no doubt, a challenge, but this remarkable young woman took it all in her stride, jumping right in and taking initiative in her own academic and social life.  She even took summer classes and designed her own social science curriculum at the time, working independently to complete work.   This year, she has been the recipient of several academic awards.

 

She is not only a self-motivated student; she is also a leader in the EWoW community. Many students do not know this, since they are rarely on-site before 9 am and, even then, they are not fully awake, but this young woman was at EWoW, opening up the building every morning at 8 am for the majority of this past year. 

 

She is deeply supportive of her peers inside and outside of the classroom.  I would venture to say she has excellent shoulders on which to cry and is, honestly, one of the most genuine, caring individuals I know. This year, Mary Louise Mapes Houldin, you are the best embodiment of all the qualities we strive to nurture here at Education without Walls - grit, zest, self-control, optimism, social intelligence, gratitude, and curiosity. It is my honor to present this year's first in school award to you.  Congratulations!

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