The size of the graduating class truly belied the momentous occasion.
On Friday morning, a trio of violet robed-and-capped students became the first-ever class to graduate from The Bridge Way School in Roxborough, a brand new private institution entirely devoted to teens recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.
During a short, but heartfelt ceremony inside Mishkan Shalom Synagogue, the students’ individual struggles and successes seemingly had the collective impact of a much larger group.
“I really don’t have the words to adequately express how proud we are of our inaugural class of students,” said Sharon Weinman, who heads the Greater Philadelphia Association for Recovery Education, the nonprofit engine behind the school.
“Please know that you’ll always hold a special place in the history of this school.”
The unofficial theme of the day was the concept of a pioneer. Staff members repeatedly referred to a school year marked by constant reshaping as both students and faculty navigated an education model they were executing for the first time.
The students – Zachary, Samuel and Christine – were often reminded of their trailblazing status throughout the year.
“Working with those who have a pioneer spirit isn’t always easy,” said a teary-eyed Rebecca Bonner, who envisioned the school and acts as its head. “They are often single-minded, impatient and outspoken. But pioneers are also independent, risk-takers and willing to work for a better life.”
NewsWorks has withheld the students’ last names from this story, per the school’s request.
When they first arrived at the Freeland Avenue school, the space for which GPARE leases from the synagogue, no one was ready to be part of a graduation ceremony.
Samuel, who will pursue a career as an emergency medical technician, had never completed a full year of school without at least a short stint in a rehabilitation facility.
“About 10 months ago, I was a train wreck,” he said. “Now, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”
Zachary had rarely taken an interest in leading a proactive life. He’s now positively embraced the risk-taking moniker bestowed upon him.
“Every day is a risk because you never know what the outcome is going to be. That’s why I think it’s important to take risks every day because if you don’t take risks, you will never experience the best in life,” he said.
Calling the school “an unimaginable blessing”, Christine said she’d “learned to embrace change, instead of fear it.”
Towards the end of the ceremony, each student was honored individually with an award. As “Don’t You Forget about Me,” the iconic musical coda to “The Breakfast Club” played, they left the room as high school graduates.