Buxmont Bethlehem Grads 2019High school graduation is always a special, emotional event, but the graduation ceremony at Buxmont Academy Bethlehem was uniquely powerful. I didn't know any of the students personally. I had only briefly interacted with the three graduates after a tour of the school a few weeks before. But by the end of the ceremony, I felt my eyes well up.

I expected a speech from the school coordinator Karen Engle, but I didn’t expect the students to share such compelling stories of transformation and community.

There was a palpable sense of comradery throughout the day. “The ceremony is to celebrate the graduates, of course, but we are also celebrating all the other students as they return to their public schools or continue here,” Karen explained.

Almost every student received at least one award: most improved, most curious, most enthusiastic, most supportive... Every student also shared their proudest change. The student changes made a strong impression on me: opening up to people, controlling anger, making better decisions and successfully staying at one school for a whole year.

The three graduates are testaments to the importance of community and commitment to personal growth at Buxmont Academy.

At the ceremony, Nikole said she was most proud of improving her grades. She had already graduated from public school but came back to Buxmont for the last week of classes and to attend graduation. How many other young adults would willingly go back to school after graduating?

Giovanni said he was most proud of “stepping up and becoming a leader.” A leader is exactly how I would describe him. When he gave me the school tour a few weeks before, he told me that Buxmont helped him realize that his former struggle to respect authority was a sign of leadership potential.

To Giovanni, everyone at Buxmont is family. On the tour, he introduced me to all his “little cousins.” At graduation, a student speaker thanked him for being a role model and a big brother. Giovanni stood up and hugged him.

Fighting back tears, Leilani said she was most proud of “being able to accept myself as a person,” and that Buxmont Academy had helped her learn to love herself and others. When I talked with her previously, she shared that she had low self-esteem when she first came to Buxmont, but I wouldn’t have known that from the way she acts now.

Everyone changes during high school, but it was truly inspiring to see how these students had transformed themselves at Buxmont Academy and how the staff sincerely care about and support them.

This piece was written by IIRP Intern Rachel Lee. Buxmont Academy is an IIRP model program.

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