NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — “You have found a sense of belonging here, and as you leave us, we will be eager to see the independent and community-minded adults you all become.”
With those words, Middlebridge School Head of School John Kaufman began the commencement ceremony for the school’s class of 2018 on June 1.
Middlebridge School, founded in 2008 and now located in the former Hazard Castle on Ocean Road, serves students with learning differences. This year, 14 seniors graduated, joining 112 previous graduates.
“For us, your class will always hold a special place in our school’s history, sharing our 10th anniversary. You are the reason we love the work that we do, and the reason we strive to support this community,” Kaufman told the students. “As evidenced by the community members in attendance today, we hope that this will always be a home for you all. Today is about celebrating our students’ transformative journey, and recognizing how they’ve all made Middlebridge School a better community for all of us.”
In a personalized ceremony filled with laughter, tears and joyful remembrance, staff members read essays written by the students detailing their growth at Middlebridge. Staff members then shared their hopes for the students and what they had learned from them, ending with a quote.
“Middlebridge School has given me several opportunities to achieve my goals. Over the last two years, I have made several friends that I will talk to after graduation. I have also had the most supportive staff, deans and teachers that I’ve ever met,” staff member Justin Bayles read for graduate Jonathan Aaron. He thanked staff members, deans and the friends he had made, saying he would cherish those memories forever.
“What we wish for you is to let your passions continue to drive you toward success; that people will always be able to see your heart because you wear it on your sleeve. That is an amazing thing,” Bayles said of Aaron.
He finished with a quote: “Don’t ever look down, be comfortable with who you are. Our flaws are what make us perfect.”
Commencement speaker Pamela Metzger, director of Dedman School of Law’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University, shared the story of how she chose Middlebridge School, then operating at a seasonal site at Camp Jori, for her son.
“I was sitting there in what was essentially a trailer, and [Kaufman] looks at me and says, ‘You’ve come from all these other fancy schools, and I bet they talked to you about where your kid’s going to go to college,’ and he said, ‘I don’t care,’” Metzger recalled. “He said, ‘What I want to talk to you about is who your child is going to be when he’s 35. How is your child going to live, who is he going to be?’ And right then and right there, I knew that this was where we belonged. And I knew it because what [Kaufman] was telling me is what this school has always told me, which is that one person can make a difference in this world. What you do and what you don’t do are constantly making a difference and a change in this world.”
Metzger gained national attention and recognition for her work to help free 10,000 indigent defendants left without legal representation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She challenged the members of the graduating class to use their “hands and heads and hearts.”
“What you can do is extraordinary,” she said. “The biggest failures I have had have been in not understanding that head, heart, hands are enough to make a difference ... You look at a roommate you didn’t want, a class you didn’t want to take, a tutor who is asking you to write in cursive on a day you don’t feel like you want to or can, and again and again and again you say, ‘Head, heart, hands.’ You do what you can with what you have, where you are.”