Pathways graduates soak up the spotlight

‘They’re just amazing human beings,’ teacher says.

It was Cianna Solan and Aviya Bentov’s time in the spotlight and they soaked up every second of it during their Mercer Island School District (MISD) Pathways program graduation celebration.

Seated at the front of the Mercer Room at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center on June 13, the duo was surrounded by grad balloons and hanging letters that spelled out, “Proud of You.”

Delighted parents, school district representatives and other well-wishers were all smiles throughout the event, and acoustic guitarist/singer Dave Irish treated the graduates to individualized songs that he rolled out with enthusiasm and care.

MISD Director of Special Services Dr. Sue Ann Bube said the adult transition program launches students ages 18-22 with disabilities on three paths: to employment, to future education and to independent living. Job site representatives were also honored at the event, stepping forward and returning to their seats clutching certificates.

In her speech at the ceremony, Bube noted, in part: “It is with immense pride and joy that I stand before you today to celebrate a momentous occasion in the lives of our two remarkable graduates. This graduation is not just an end, but a celebration of beginnings, of transitions, and of the incredible journey that lies ahead.”

MISD Superintendent Dr. Fred Rundle thanked those in attendance for supporting the students and young adults “day in and day out to help them gain the skills that they need to be able to go out in the world and be active participants right alongside everyone else.”

Solan, 20, has worked at Walgreens, Mercer Island Thrift Shop and Aegis Living and now is employed at Covenant Living at the Shores.

After the celebration while surrounded by her parents, Solan said it feels good to graduate from Pathways. Through the program and her jobs, she has learned to stack shelves, vacuum, set the table, fill the dishwasher and take the bus.

“She’s really fantastic. The school has been amazing, especially Karin Shelton (and all the teachers), and she’s become very happy and independent. She still has a long way to go, but she’s really proud of herself when she goes to work,” said her mother, Blaithin Flanagan.

Bentov, 21, graduated from the Highline College Transition Program in Des Moines on June 11 and then made it a double with the Pathways graduation. He has worked at Walgreens and MI Thrift Shop, where he will return to work this summer.

“I could tell you for years, every time I talked about Aviya’s school I would have tears in my eyes, because I was so incredibly thankful. It is an amazing system,” said his mother Nathalie Bentov, who added that Aviya plans to enter the Bellevue College Neurodiversity Navigators program.

When queried about his thoughts on the graduation celebration, Bentov said it was one of multiple events on his agenda that day, including engaging in a karate lesson.

Both Solan and Bentov have kept busy schedules, and videos flashing onto a screen at the event gave attendees a glimpse into their daily activities on the job and in life.

Main Pathways instructor Shelton was thrilled to see the graduates be the center of attention: “I’m so proud of them, first of all. They’re just amazing human beings and I feel just lucky to have been their teacher for the last three years and to see their growth.”

Irish’s touching songs supplemented Shelton’s sentiment: this is their day to celebrate, everyone will miss them and may all their dreams come true in everything they do.