HOLYOKE — At Holyoke Community College on Wednesday, a group of seven high school students gathered to mark a milestone that usually happens before stepping foot on a college campus: graduation.
The students from Mount Tom Academy walked with cap and gown to receive their diplomas in the Kittredge Center at HCC and watched with happy surprise as their graduation speaker, Phil O’Donoghue, threw out his prepared speech, saying they had already learned lessons it took him a lifetime to grasp.
“If you’ve fallen down, flat on your back, what are you going to do?” O’Donoghue said. “Get back up or give up? You’ve all shown already that you get back up.”
The Mount Tom Academy program, administered by the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, has partnered with Holyoke Community College since 1999 to serve students who have been unsuccessful in a traditional school setting. Students learn at their own pace in a small, one-classroom environment at the college and some take college-level courses. This year the academy joined up with Summit Learning and the Center for Adolescent Studies to provide personalized and mindfulness-based programming.
Referencing experiences from his own life and the lessons he said he has learned from failure, O’Donoghue urged the graduates to “find your place,” “do what you love,” and “the hardest thing to do, ask for help.” A professor in Theater and English at Springfield Technical Community College, O’Donoghue is known for an annual showcase of award-winning, 10-minute plays.