On May 19, 2013 I attended graduation ceremonies at Berkshire Hills Music Academy (BHMA) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. BHMA provides post-secondary education to young adults with developmental disabilities who have special interests and abilities in music. This year there were eight graduates of BHMA’s two-year certificate program (they also have summer programs, and an extended learning community program). Students take classes to help them with independent living skills like budgeting, shopping, social skills, cooking, and fitness. They also engage in musical studies that may include lessons in singing or an instrument, music fundamentals, music theory, music technology, and song writing. The BHMA Troupe (pictured above) performs throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic states from Montreal to Washington, D.C. (to book them for an event, click here).
I was honored with BHMA’s Visionary Award for my work translating Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences into practical ways for celebrating the many intelligences of people with Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and other developmental disabilities (or as I like to say, neurodiversities). After receiving the award, I delivered the commencement address, which focused on the value that the music education they received from BHMA can make in the lives of the graduates (to read the speech click here).
My visit to the school was a real highlight in my own career. I enjoyed visiting with students, listening to them perform after the graduation, talking with members of the advisory board, and honoring and celebrating the strengths of students who are traditionally seen in terms of their deficits. I wish the eight graduates, Dylan, Robert, Amanda, Michelle, Daniel, Gareth, Adam, and Heather, all the very best as they launch into a new life with new skills and with music as their guide and inspiration. And, finally, a special thank you to Terry Monkaba, executive director of the Williams Syndrome Association, who introduced my commencement speech, and to Kay Bernon, who is the founder of BHMA, and who has created an unparalleled ”positive niche” where students with special needs can flourish and realize their full potential!