I remember a particular time I was at my grandparents' house for the summer, playing a board game with my grandfather. It was my turn and I had to read what was on the card. Usually my sister and I would be partners and since she was my “big sister” she would do most of the work for the both of us. This time was different: she wasn’t there to read for me and this is when the truth came out. When my grandmother came home my grandfather ran out to her in a panic, telling her that I couldn’t read. I think he was in more shock than I was, probably questioning how my elephant remained hidden for so long. I did eventually get some help and learn to read, but the elephant only seemed to get bigger. I struggled to do school work in and out of class. The elephant went from being “I can’t read” to “I have a learning disability / I’m not smart / I’m a SPED.” This became so overwhelming I would try to get out of school everyday. I begged my parents to let me drop out. By this time it did not just feel like the elephant was in the room with me, but was sitting on me...I could barely breathe!
Then came the Eagle Hill Community. I choose the word COMMUNITY intentionally, as I believe Eagle Hill is much more than a school. Just a few short months after being here, things changed. I still had trouble reading, but it didn’t seem to matter to anyone. The fact that most of the students here have some kind of learning difference made it easier for me to shed some light on my elephant. Eagle Hill taught us how to embrace and even celebrate our learning styles, and perhaps of equal or greater importance, the expectations were high. We were treated like students who could and would excel in life. Now I didn’t always believe they were telling the truth. I remember going to the school website shortly after my parents told me they thought this school might be a good place for me. One line in particular struck me. “At Eagle Hill School, we understand that our students are blessed with multiple learning ABILITIES and that it is our responsibility as educators to identify, celebrate, and support each student in capitalizing on his or her individual genius.” And through the eyes of a struggling sixteen-year-old girl, I thought to myself: “What a load of crap. I can’t believe my parents are thinking of sending me here....They must really think I’m a lost cause...” So yes, the process did take time. But here I was just a few months into my first year and while the elephant was still in
44 Eagle Hill School 2012–2013
the room with me, now I was sitting tall on his back, blowing a trumpet! Now many of the teachers are aware: I did fall off several times. It was a gradual process with plenty of ups and downs, but sure enough I did over time come to believe I was smart and I could be successful! What an amazing lesson. To be able to embrace my learning disability, to expose my elephant in the room for others to see: turning a disability into a learning ability was powerful and unexpected. And while it is my intention, and my hope for all the students here, to take that lesson to college and beyond ...as it turns out, it was not the only truly amazing thing that had happened here. Yes, embracing your learning style was and is important. But what was truly amazing, and the real lesson here, is the Eagle Hill COMMUNITY — its teachers, administration, and staff, created an environment where we felt safe to expose and celebrate our elephants in the room. Even as I stand here, I'm not completely sure how they do it every day. And I could attempt to explain what little I do understand, in the hopes that we all can take this lesson and create our own extended Eagle Hill communities, communities where people feel safe to take risks and think big. But I thought, what a better way to do that than attempt, if just for a few moments, to lead by example right here and now. Take the risk, however flawed by the immaturity of a ninteenyear-old girl, to try to make this day, and the days to follow, a safe place for all of us to talk about the collective elephants in the room. To “identify, celebrate, and support each other's needs.” So, Class of 2013, its time for us to embrace what it means to be part of the Eagle Hill Community; time for us to acknowledge and thank the teachers and staff, and to give back. Dr. McDonald — Ms. Wynne — Teachers — The entire Eagle Hill staff — Really for all of us here today. Surely there is an elephant in the room, the thing that is on many of our minds but not easy to talk about. It is the absence of a great man, who should be sitting right here by my side, supporting me and us with his honored smile, Ron Baglio. I want all faculty and staff to know that we are here for you today, tomorrow, and whenever you need us. Please don’t pretend, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to us on our graduation day, that it’s okay that he’s not here. It’s not okay. Sure we will go on, and we will be strong, as he would want that for us. But it’s okay to miss his presence, to miss him not being here today, and for the days to come. I for one wouldn’t be standing
The Compendium is a magazine published yearly by Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, MA.