Going virtual has become commonplace in this era of COVID-19, but this — Eagle Rock School’s 80th trimester, saw our staff and administrators organize a Celebration of Graduates for seven of our students unlike any preceding event of its kind.
Normally, such ceremonies take place in our Human Performance Center on campus but, due to the health pandemic, our mountainside campus shut down in early March, with all students returning to their homes in order to prepare for remote learning and ongoing student support.
As a result, we did not have a graduation ceremony last trimester. Instead, we had a Celebration of Graduates.
That meant the 80th trimester Celebration of Graduates, was delivered online via Zoom, on April 10, and featured a prepared video of faculty speeches, shout outs, virtual journals, remembrances, and even advice from the departing grads to their friends and current Eagle Rockers.
Those graduating last trimester include Xavier Hagood-Edmeade, Alizja Serret, Dalan Farris, Burgess “Bea” Cotham, Ay’Niah Rochester, Jacob Israel, and Joyce Page. And while these students missed out on a “regular” high school graduation ceremony, all seven were invited back to “walk” the next time a graduation is held on campus.
What was important for these grads to hear was praise from family members, instructors, and fellow students — all of whom poured themselves into a full-on commitment to earn their high school diploma. For some of these students, graduation did not seem at all like a possibility just a few years ago.
Immediately below is a photo of the seven students who participated in the Celebration of Graduates, followed by a biography of each graduate, which includes information about their major learnings, campus involvement, achievements, and future plans.
Editor’s Note: At the end of today’s post is a video that was presented at the Celebration of Graduates.
Xavier, who arrived at Eagle Rock in the fall of 2016, is from Ormond Beach, Fla., and was a member of Spruce House. He spent much of his time at Eagle Rock committed to leadership and service learning, as well as wilderness education.
Xavier completed his new student wilderness orientation course, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) horse-packing course in Wyoming, as well as an Eagle Rock veteran-student wilderness course in the fall of 2019. His leadership and service roles included being an intramural captain, a Lead Student Ambassador, mentor, and member of the Mag 7 student leadership team, among many other things.
Xavier recounts the lessons learned at Eagle Rock, many relating to his personal development. He explains learning how to advocate for himself, becoming more patient, and discovering his independence all helped him grow during time with us. All the while, he has held onto a conversation he had with L’Tanya Perkins, our admission associate, during his admission interview. She asked him to “promise me something… No matter how hard this place is, you have to be true to yourself and remember your why.”
And to this day, Xavier says he has committed to discovering and refining what his “why” is in all he does and maintaining his resilience.
Looking ahead, Xavier hopes to spend more time in the wilderness by volunteering for a national conservation organization and completing trail work and maintenance. Following several years of conservation work, Xavier plans to enroll and serve in the military. After all his time at Eagle Rock, he advises new students to “avoid all the drama” and to focus on themselves.
Alizja, who arrived here in the fall of 2017, is from Lynn, Mass., and was a member of Spruce House. She says a defining point for her at Eagle Rock was getting involved and taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to her.
Among her major goals and learnings was developing confidence and leadership skills. In line with this, she jumped into numerous leadership roles and classes. She has served as the Spruce House women’s wing leader, Spruce House leader, kitchen patrol leader, a new student mentor twice, facilitator of the new student mentor program, both the photographer and manager of the basketball team, as well as completing an outdoor leadership course.
Additionally, she has served on Mag 7, which is a leadership team of seven veteran students who support evening and weekend programming. Alizja believes she is graduating with self-confidence and leadership abilities that align with her goal of figuring out how to lead on the front lines and behind the scenes.
One of Alizja’s major experiences at Eagle Rock took place in the fall of 2019 when she applied for and received a place on a college tour trip to Los Angeles with the Life after Eagle Rock (LAER) team. Alizja joined staffers Chris Lamar and Laila Hosseinzadeh as they toured various universities and colleges in the greater Los Angeles area. As Alizja explores her next steps, she is considering studying performing arts, cosmetology, or animal care.
And as a student who maximized all her time at Eagle Rock, Alizja recommends new students focus on things that will help, rather than things that won’t help.
Dalan joined us in the fall of 2017 and is from the San Fernando Valley in California. He was a member of Spruce House during his time on campus.
As a student, Dalan took full advantage of Eagle Rock in order to foster his love for music and visual art. During his free time, Dalan was often in our Art Building or Schoolhouse’s recording studios, writing, and producing songs.
As he became a veteran student, Dalan earned several leadership positions, such as Art Angel and Guardian of Sound, which allowed him to host and support students in the Art Building and Schoolhouse, respectively. Dalan considers artistic and musical expression relaxing and healing, and he shared that with others through these leadership roles.
He worked on several significant artistic endeavors while at Eagle Rock, including developing a brand mark, and writing, recording and producing an album of songs with the support of an individual in Eagle Rock’s network.
During his time at Eagle Rock, Dalan says he learned considerable lessons in the area of personal growth. From gratitude and connection with others, to resilience and self-love, Dalan’s major takeaways reflect back on his thoughtful, introspective personality.
In line with this, Dalan’s objectives are to continue making art, working on his branding, and finishing recording and producing an album. His art and music work will be done in conjunction with a structural welding program he is enrolling in following graduation.
To new students, Dalan suggests remaining focused on oneself while having the capacity to help and teach others.
Burgess “Bea” Cotham
Visual art and music were a salient theme for Bea’s time at Eagle Rock. She explored pottery, watercolor painting, and photography, and she says her favorite classes included a music theory and composition course as well as a piano studio class. Her passion for music also took shape in several musical theater performances in which she participated. In 2018, Bea had a lead role in our musical Allegiance, and in 2019, she participated in a student-led performance of Something’s Coming.
Additionally, she gave back to our art and music programs by serving as an Art Angel and Guardian of Sound — leadership roles that allowed her to host and support students in the Art Building and music Schoolhouse, respectively.
From her time at Eagle Rock, Bea says she learned about living in respectful harmony, supporting and respecting the opinions of those around her, effectively managing stress, self-confidence, and enjoying being a teenager.
She explored several different plans for life after Eagle Rock, such as studying musical performance or special effects makeup. However, Bea decided to enroll in cosmetology school to study her passion of hairstyling and to earn her cosmetology license. She will begin her program in the fall of 2020 and will be ready to have her own clients upon earning her license.
Ay’Niah arrived at Eagle Rock in January 2018 from New York City. She was a proud member of Ponderosa House.
Ay’Niah says her time at Eagle Rock has included many incredible opportunities. She completed her new student wilderness course as well as a five-week wilderness course for veteran students. She also self-directed her learning through independent study courses, served in many leadership roles, and was a powerful advocate for what she believes in.
Among her leadership roles were serving as a Lead Student Ambassador— a position that includes supervising and supporting the campus tour program — being a member of the Mag 7 leadership team and taking on a mentorship for new students.
Ay’Niah’s next objectives is to serve in the military and continue developing a better understanding of what family means, how to find it, and how to strengthen it.
Additionally, she advises current and future Eagle Rock students to “take every lesson as a blessing.” Finally, Ay’Niah encourages others to find their team, whether at Eagle Rock or elsewhere. She gives special recognition to staff members who have supported her and been part of her team, including L’Tanya Perkins and Jocelyn Rodriguez, Spruce houseparent and athletics coordinator; Dr. Courthney Russell, Jr., Aspen houseparent and residential life program coordinator; and many others.
Jacob arrived here in January of 2018 from Prescott, Ariz., a town situated in the heart of the Grand Canyon state. During his time at Eagle Rock, he was a member of Piñon House.
One of Jacob’s most defining characteristics is his ardent love for the outdoors and land conservation, a passion he tenaciously pursued at Eagle Rock. During his first trimester, Jacob completed our 25-day new student wilderness orientation program and built upon that course by participating in various wilderness excursions during our regular Explore Week experiences which are a weeklong break from classes each trimester for students to explore outside interests.
Additionally, Jacob completed a backcountry rock climbing course through the NOLS, and even earned his Wilderness First Responder certification. To cap it all off, he spent the first five weeks last fall on a special wilderness course, Into the Wild, led by Outdoor Education Instructional Specialist Eliza Kate Wicks-Arschack. Although no official numbers are out yet, staff and students estimate that Jacob spent one-third of his time as a student here in wilderness!
Also during his time outdoors, Jacob focused on climbing, learning new technical skills, mindfulness, and drafting serene adventure writing pieces;. Back on campus, he served as a mentor, wing leader, and kitchen patrol leader. Additionally, he was an active member of our rock-climbing club and basketball league.
Looking ahead, Jacob is exploring several options, including mountaineering training through a nationally recognized mountain guiding organization, and attending college to study botany, medicine, or business.
Joyce “Joy” Page
Joy arrived at Eagle Rock in the summer of 2018 from Lancaster, Calif., and was a member of Aspen House.
Joy’s time at Eagle Rock was nothing short of busy and intentional. Entering as a new student, she identified self-confidence and public speaking as her areas for growth.
Joy was kitchen patrol leader, captain of the basketball team, a member of a theater performance, hosted many school Gatherings, led campus tours as a Student Ambassador, served as a mentor and co-facilitated the Mentor Program with fellow graduate Alizja Serret, and worked on the Mag 7 student leadership team.
She also worked as an intern for Rocky Mountain National Park and supported on a vegetation crew that removed invasive plants and tended to our on-campus greenhouse. Through all these experiences and stepping outside her comfort zone, Joy maintained a mindset that “mistakes are the best way to practice.”
Joy describes one of her key learnings as her discovery of how she, herself, is a learner. This self-awareness has led her to effective ways to advocate for herself in and out of the classroom, as well as find ways “to stick up for [herself].”
Following graduation, Joy plans to attend a university to study teaching, and she hopes to return to Eagle Rock as a Public Allies fellow, making hers a full-circle experience. After an incredibly successful time at Eagle Rock, Joy has simple yet essential advice for new students: “Be you!”