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The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School graduating class of 2022. (Mike Slurzberg/Courtesy Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School)
The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School graduating class of 2022. (Mike Slurzberg/Courtesy Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School)

DEVENS — Twenty-one Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School seniors spoke at their June 8 graduation, representing nearly half the 49-member class of 2022. All of the graduates were offered the opportunity to speak, as Principal Todd Sumner noted in his welcoming speech.

Sumner would address the crowd again later, one of five faculty members invited to speak by the class.

Others included Ryan Ruopp, David Todisco, a Parker alum himself, Sue Massucco and Molly McGillicuddy, who passionately urged the class to become advocates for values they believed in, active participants in the wide and sometimes not-so-wonderful world they were emerging into.

Ruopp said he held each student in high regard. “There isn’t one of you I wouldn’t want to have in class,” he said, adding that he’d enjoyed listening to their ideas. But today marked the start of a new phase in their progress, he said, an assessment they will conduct themselves.

“This time, you’re the judge,” Ruopp said. He advised them to be “open” to new experiences and new people they would meet, launching into a humorous sketch of his own first-year college adventures.

The open podium at graduation is only one of the practices that set this “essential” public charter school apart, along with its educational philosophy and teaching methods. The six-year secondary school – grades 7-12 – is known for its non-traditional take on the learning process and as the student speakers pointed out, for its emphasis on equality, acceptance and individuality.

Teachers who are considered “coaches” more than traditional instructors and whom students call by their first names, for example. Grade level advances between divisions, called “gateways,” that are achieved by performance evaluations and interactive assessments of their portfolios, rather than tests.

Judging from the graduates’ speeches, Parker’s differences made all the difference for them.

From cleverly crafted analogies to heartfelt parting words, they all said their experiences at Parker had been a defining time in their lives that changed them for the better and prepared them for adult life.

Hannah Dangel spotlighted her struggle to use a comma correctly to highlight another rule of thumb she learned at Parker: to “pause and reflect” and learn from her mistakes. Sofia Silva-Rosa compared her learning curve to mastering the art of bicycle riding, done at her own pace.

Yarrow Biotti said her senior project helped her set a career path toward marine biology.

The list goes on. Brief but spectacular stories, candid, humorous, emotional.

Ruby Hatlevig said she was “terrified” on her first day of school at Parker, even got lost in the halls. Then she was invited to share a table with “strangers” at lunch, a welcoming gesture she resolved to emulate. “That natural giving continued,” she said and she resolved to pay it forward. At some point, her “helping people smile” became genuine, she said.

Leena Basma said her graduation concluded a 15-year odyssey for her family as she’s the last of four siblings to graduate from Parker, each of the others a success story now. “I hope we all understand the privilege its been…” to attend this school, she said.

As its gift to the school, the graduates planted a tree on the grounds, with a plaque. Presenters Scout Fulmer and Anna McHutcheon proudly announced their fundraiser netted $1,000, with 100 percent participation. Everyone in the class of 2022 pitched in, they said.