Holyoke High School’s Opportunity Academy graduated about 80 students on Thursday, June 16 during an emotional ceremony punctuated by personal, heartfelt tributes from staff to students as their names were announced.
OA students and staff took the opportunity to celebrate OA Principal Geoffrey Schmidt’s 40th birthday with a cake and well wishes as the school year came to an official close.
OA student speaker Destiny Smith wrote her remarks, but at the last minute asked teacher Nicole McNeil to be her voice during the ceremony and to read the words she felt too deeply to say out loud on her own. Destiny wanted those assembled to know that she had grown up during her time at Opportunity Academy, that she no longer wanted to waste her time. And surely her time was not wasted, as Destiny graduated high school on schedule while working full time and being a full-time OA student. She acknowledged her teachers and OA staff who helped her along the way, and also her mother and grandmother. “Mom, I did this for you,” Destiny wrote, “and also for myself.”
For the family of Deneysha Rivera, the graduation ceremony was a sad reminder of her life being cut far too short. Deneysha passed away in November 2021 during her senior year at OA. English teacher Jim Holbert remembered Deneysha as enthusiastic and spirited, and as a person who spoke from her heart and always encouraged others to do their best. Teacher Danielle Razon read a poem Deneysha wrote shortly before her passing—titled “Hope”—that spoke of standing tall even when all feels lost and that honored her three younger brothers as her best friends. Daneysha’s family was presented with an honorary diploma, acknowledging her hard work and studies while recognizing their unspeakable loss.