Snowboarder Kevin Pearce to address BBA graduates

MANCHESTER - When Burr and Burton Academy's 181st commencement gets underway on Friday, June 13, a notable speaker will be addressing the senior class.

Former professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce has agreed to deliver a commencement speech after ceremonies get underway that afternoon. Pearce was training for the Vancouver Olym pics in December 2009 when he tried a cab double-cork in the halfpipe - a move that would change his life forever. Pearce struck his head over the left eye about halfway down the pipe causing serious brain trauma.

Once Pearce recovered and it became apparent to him that he would no longer be able to compete professionally, he turned a negative into a positive and began sharing his story with others and advocating for brain injury research and Down Syndrome. "I kind of saw a huge opportunity to be able to help these [people,]" said Pearce. "I got so much help and so much support through my injury and when I was going through the tough times that you know now to be able to lend some guidance and some support to these people that might not be as fortunate as I am it's really cool for me and it's really powerful to be able to help them in that way."

This year's commencement address will mark the first time that Pearce has spoken at a graduation. Though the ceremony is more than a month away, Pearce said he has already been thinking a lot about what he will say to the BBA graduates.

"My goal is to go up there and share with these kids what I've been through and lend [to] them what I feel might be some helpful advice for them moving forward into this next stage of their life that they're about to embark on and just try and give them some pointers and some tips of what kind of worked best for me and what I found to be helpful," said Pearce.

Another interesting part of the talk, Pearce said, will be about interaction with people who are different from themselves. Pearce's brother David has Down Syndrome. After the injury, Pearce said there were a number of things that he had to relearn and during that time David was a huge help and he was able to learn a lot from him.

"The things that I've had to relearn I've had to relearn much slower and it's [taken] much longer and it's been much harder and life for David is very slow and it's very hard for him," said Pearce. "A lot of the things he deals with are really tough and so to have that perspective and have him there kind of going through it with me and seeing what it's like for him has been so awesome in that just because it is slow doesn't mean that you can't be an amazing person and live a really successful, happy, full life. He was a huge part of this journey for me in this recovery and it's been amazing how much he helped me and now to be able to give back the Down Syndrome community has been really powerful for me."

Pearce - who is a family friend of BBA English and Social Studies teacher Sunny Wright - agreed to speak at commencement following a breakfast with Headmaster Mark Tashjian and Assistant Headmaster Meg Kenny.

In an interview on Wednesday, Tashjian said they chose Pearce as this year's speaker because of his story.

"We thought that he could have tremendous impact," said Tashjian. "He has at least three different life stories that he can talk about. He can talk about what it takes to be a champion, and he was a champion and put all the work and commitment into attaining that goal. He can talk about what it is to grow up in a family with profound differences in the family. He has a brother with Down Syndrome so he understands and embraces significant differences, and he recovered from a traumatic brain injury and that took tremendous fortitude."

Tashjian said that for the students, he hopes the talk will at the very least add to the exciting day, but said that it would great if they were able to take something away from it as well.

As for Pearce, what he hopes the graduates will be able to take away from his speech is the hope that anything is possible.

"Whatever it is that they're faced with in this next stage of their life, or their entire life, they can overcome it and if they do face obstacles and if they do face adversity they can come back and they can recover from whatever it is that they [have to] deal with," said Pearce.

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