By Matt Baide
Colorful balloons, bright graduation signs and lots of cheers and noisemakers followed the Bethel Acceleration Academy staff during the second graduation caravan of the summer in August.
Morgan Ford-Reese persevered through adversity to earn her diploma and plans to pursue a career in sustainable forestry.
Although classrooms remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Academy educators were determined to offer their graduates a proper celebration — even if that meant bringing the Class of 2020 a commencement on wheels.
“It is so rewarding to see the faces of GC’s (graduation candidates) and their families when we pull up,” said career and life coach Jennifer Hyppolite.
Brandon Sueing, Lyndon Cornelius and Morgan Ford-Reese graduated from BAA in July and were feted on the front lawns of their homes or employers. Academy educators honored the young learners for achieving a dream — their high school diploma — they might have thought out of reach.
Sueing, who began his pursuit of a diploma in 2016, was celebrated at his house with his mother beaming beside him. Cornelius enrolled at BAA in 2019 and was able to get his final few credits waived due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His mom also joined in the celebration when the caravan arrived.
“Being able to be a part of the grad caravan was a great experience,” math content coach Alison Hansen said. “Seeing the joy on the faces of the GC’s and their families was definitely something I won’t forget.”
Ford-Reese had many challenges on her way to a diploma, including pregnancy and a temporary period of homelessness. But she persisted and smiled with delight when Academy staff members showed up at her job and showered her with praise.
“Grad caravans are like a family holiday,” graduate candidate advocate Starr Phillips said. “There is decorating and anticipation and smiles all around.” With no end in sight for the pandemic, BAA executive director Gin Hooks believes there will be more graduation caravans in the future.
“I actually think this is a natural expansion of what we normally do. It’s been important because we normally take grads to the school board meeting so the community can participate. This time, we’re bringing the community celebration to the grads,” Hooks said. “It’s been a pleasure to be able to continue this piece of our culture — and it’s been as meaningful for the staff as it has been for the families.”