TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District administrator Diana Glaesmer-Hawn emceed the district’s Adult Work Center graduation as one of her last professional duties before she retires at the end of the school year.
Linda Fink, an ex-TBAISD administrator and Glaesmer-Hawn’s former boss, invoked the Yiddish word “kvell” while she talked during the ceremony about the adult work center’s director.
Kvell means bursting with pride, and the word just as accurately described the emotions of TBAISD staffers, students and families who attended the graduation Wednesday and recognized the achievements of the 13 graduating students.
The ceremony was really all about them, said Glaesmer-Hawn, who begged her colleagues not to make a big fuss over her retirement.
“I’ve tried to think it wasn’t my final time, it was just another time,” Glaesmer-Hawn said of the graduation. “It’s always really about the students.”
Special education students between the ages of 16 and 26 attend school at TBAISD’s Adult Work Center, where instruction focuses on safely navigating a community and its resources, and learning to live as independently as possible.
On Wednesday the 2013 graduates donned red caps and robes adorned with white carnations. They strode to the stage of Northwestern Michigan College’s Milliken Auditorium while members of Traverse City Central High School’s orchestra played the quintessential graduation march, “Pomp and Circumstance.” Audience members scrambled to snap photos with cameras, smartphones and iPads.
The graduates took turns standing at the front of the stage with their families members, who beamed with pride throughout the ceremony.
Adult Work Center staffers recounted anecdotes about each student one-by-one. Many of the teachers and aides fought back tears as they talked about the graduates.
“I’m just so happy for them,” first-year Adult Work Center teacher Justin VanderMeer said after the ceremony. “They’ve worked so hard and they deserve it. It’s just awesome to see all the happy faces now.”
Many of the graduates, including Paul Heeke, plan to begin working now that they’ve completed school. Heeke said he also wants to continue playing basketball and going out in the community, but on Wednesday Heeke just enjoyed the post-ceremony reception with soft drinks and sweets.
“It feels good to be here for me,” Heeke said.
Michael Dornoff, father of graduate Raymond Dornoff, described the Adult Work Center as a sort of extended family.
“It’s more than just a school,” Michael Dornoff said. “It’s not a job for most of these people, it’s a calling.”
For Glaesmer-Hawn special education has been a calling for 39 years. The longtime educator opened her last graduation ceremony as director of the Adult Work Center with a mantra taped to her computer at the Adult Work Center.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass,” Glaesmer-Hawn said. “It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”