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Graduates dance and share their success at Ruth Parker Eason ceremony in Anne Arundel County

Ruth Parker Eason School celebrated its four graduates Thursday evening, discussing the perseverance the class of 2021 has shown not just through the pandemic, but their entire academic career.

Principal Ame Guerke said the students exemplify resilience.

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“Resilience is not a trampoline, up one moment down the next. It is like climbing a path that you don’t have a trail map for. It takes time, strength and the help from people around you, and you’re going to experience setbacks along the way,” Guerke said. “But eventually you reach the top and you look back and see how far you’ve come.”

The students had reached the top, she said. Retiring educator Alma Durm offered the commencement address for the school, which has programs for students ages 3-21 with moderate to severe disabilities. Alma was retiring after 41 years teaching, 21 of those at Ruth Parker Eason.

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Graduate Zoya Philippi-Allen has achieved something no other Ruth Parker Eason graduate has done: she has been accepted to Project SEARCH, a nationwide program which provides employment training at work for young people with disabilities. Philippi-Allen is a brown belt in karate and is working toward a black belt.

“When given a challenge Zoya tries her best, and she doesn’t shy away from speaking the truth to those around her,” Durm said.

Philippi-Allen gave remarks on behalf of the graduates, talking about the skills she learned at school and how she became more flexible when presented with something upsetting.

“I feel proud of my school,” she said. “Ms. Alma taught me about the constitution. There are laws and we have rights.”

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Durm told the audience about Brendan Rogers, a graduate who experienced medical setbacks this year that sometimes kept him away from school. Rogers danced along to the music played throughout the ceremony, and had everyone in the audience smiling along with him. Rogers also pressed a button that played audio to offer the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the ceremony.

“But Brendan persevered and returned to the safe harbor of his virtual classroom. He started to learn in new ways. As you can see tonight, Brendan reaches far past his chair,” Durm said.

Durm said graduate Paola Mas Velez learned how to walk and how to communicate using software. She also loves dancing, and could be found on the dance floor during school events until the last song was done playing.

“Paola is so eager to walk she has to be reminded to slow down so that our teachers and therapists can keep up with her,” Durm said.

Her determination resulted in her learning to use an iPad to learn pages and pages of vocabulary, Durm said.

“Paolo took steps when it was easier for her to remain seated, and we should all learn from Paola,” she said.

Another graduate, Shane West, is known for his smile and has spent the past few years working at the Anne Arundel County Public Schools warehouse, school laundry and in the cafeteria providing encouragement and a morale boost to workers, by using a switch he can press with his head, which activates a voice output switch, Durm said.

“In the community he smiles. In the work place he smiles. In the virtual classroom he smiles,” Durm said.

Board of Education Member Candace Antwine, who represents Meade, spoke at the ceremony, calling the graduates stars.

“When stars shine, everything around them becomes bright,” she said.

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