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Student's final project nears performance art.

Byline: LeBRIE RICH 20Below News Team / The Register-Guard

I had a graduation like no other.

At Blue Mountain School, when you feel like you are ready to graduate, you must write an essay and present it to all of the parents, students and staff at the alternative school. This is known as the "graduation presentation."

But I wasn't going to settle for any essay presentation. I wanted something different, something creative.

My essay developed over the course of six months. The work began on standard, 8 1/2 -inch-by-11-inch paper with stick figures drawn in the margins. It evolved into an essay written on index cards held by the most perfect paper product ever produced: a wax paper sandwich bag.

I designed my presentation so that part of my essay would be on index cards; part of it would be on paper made to look like a sandwich. The theory behind my atypical essay was that one solid idea would be on each piece of the sandwich.

For the presentation, I wanted shock value. What could shock a group of people who are used to the noncoercive environment of our alternative school? Not much - unless I could create something that was exactly the opposite of what people were used to seeing.

The environment at Blue Mountain is intensely creative, chaotic, random and stimulating. I made a few calls to the South Lane School District and arranged to borrow 40 straight-up school desks.

I didn't want a "presentation." I wanted to create an atmosphere - an experience. The sandwich was good, but it needed to be part of something bigger. What could be better than having my audience sit in stereotypical school desks, complete with lunches?

I packed the lunches with carrot sticks, a box of raisins, an apple, cookies, a juice box and of course, my essay-sandwich.

The bags contained two other things: a form for comments (if people didn't want to say them aloud) and a symbolic pencil.

I've had a pencil collection since I was 5, and I decided at that time that I'd never sharpen them until I was able to use them in college. I almost made it, but I knew the time was right.

I sharpened each pencil to a beautiful point and strategically placed one pencil in each bag.

I also transformed the room. The space was filled with Legos, dollhouses and toys of all kinds, and I stripped it down. Anything that offered stimulation was taken out - bookshelves, wall decorations, everything.

There stood 40 desks with 40 chairs, facing front in perfect rows with identical brown paper bags on top. It was sensory deprivation of a most righteous kind. It was like walking into my brain. Very shocking.

As I waited for everyone to arrive, it hit me that this is the coolest thing I've ever done. I mean, I've done some pretty cool stuff in my life, but this tops it all - better than swimming in the ocean in March, my brother and I sleep-talking to each other and all four Spearhead concerts I've seen put together.

As the more than 50 people filed into the room, their expressions were priceless. Shock value was attained. People sat down, talking excitedly. The rustle of paper bags was the dominant noise for about five minutes. Then, slowly, everyone quieted down and looked at me sitting in the front of the room with a very pleased look on my face.

It was excellent.

I read my essay, and the next hour was taken up with challenge and debate. Everything went precisely as I had planned.

It was way cool. The reason, I think, is because I was so ready for it. So was everyone else in the room. I got nothing but positive support.

Also, it was all about the creative process. It was a lot of work, but there was no rushing and I didn't force anything when I was working on it. It was sheer inspiration. Somehow, I knew that it was my time to graduate.

I'm 16 and I've graduated. To some people that might seem early, but for me it was just the right time. I don't know what I'm going to do next year, but I'm not worried about it. I've proved to myself I can do anything.

LeBrie Rich is a 2002 graduate of Blue Mountain School. She can be reached by e-mail at 20Below@
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Title Annotation:Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 27, 2002
Previous Article:The splendid spork a marvel to behold.
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