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Student wins statewide accolade for art
Cer Bolton, of Kalamazoo, a 20-year-old student in the Kalamazoo RESA Young Adult Program, is the statewide winner of this year’s prestigious “Yes I Can!” Award in the Arts.
The Michigan Council for Exceptional Children chose Bolton to receive the honor, along with a $100 U.S. savings bond, when its annual conference takes place later this week.
Bolton, son of Harry and Vickie Bolton, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder while he was in elementary school. Although classes were a struggle for him, “mostly he had to deal with bullies who criticized him about his appearance and his behavior,” according to his teacher, Karen Irvine, in the Young Adult Program.
“It was tough,” Irvine noted, “but Cer relied on the strength of his mother and his religion to help guide him to always keep trying and never give up. While Cer was in high school, he played on sports teams. He also participated in musical theater despite the fear and anxiety associated with his ASD. He became highly respected by his peers.”
He finished high school and earned his diploma. Now he is attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College in pursuit of his dream of becoming a fitness instructor. With the encouragement and support of his teachers, and a lot of study, he has completed two semesters.
Young Adult Program Principal Deborah Wild nominated Bolton for the award. In the nomination, Wild and Irvine called Bolton “the most dedicated and determined student we have ever encountered.”
“Those who know him remember the quiet, polite young man who first came to the Young Adult Program in 2010,” Irvine recalled. “He was friendly, but he didn’t stand out from his peers. Then, last September, he tried out for the program’s newly formed choir.”
The rest, as they say, is history: In early October, he was elected as the Student Council representative from his homeroom. He developed a presence among his peers and fellow students began to look to him as a leader.
“There was Cer, singing lead with emotion and confidence. There was Cer, smiling at the crowd of his peers. He had them all. One student was so overcome with emotion at the words Cer was singing so sweetly that she began to sob.
The choir took first place at the Southwest Michigan Recreation and Leisure Choral Competition on Oct. 28.
And those who were among the standing-room-only audience for Kalamazoo RESA’s annual Holiday Open House in December still talk about the impact of the choir’s powerful performance that day.
“Cer’s dedication to the choir often leaves others in awe as well as in tears,” said Corlis V. Watkins, the Young Adult Program choir director and vocal teacher. “He approaches each song with heart. He studies the words of the lyrics and applies them, as can be evidenced by his stage presence.
“We have a plethora of students at the school who can sing, but Cer has turned singing into the ‘cool’ thing to do. After his competition performance, many students inquired about becoming members of the choir. “
Watkins credits Bolton with singlehandedly turning their music program around -- thanks to his talent and love of singing, ability to lead others and build their self-esteem, along with his confidence in the craft.
Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency’s Young Adult Program is a post- secondary special education facility offering classes and support for young adults with disabilities. Bolton attends a special education classroom there three days a week with a certified special education teacher and two paraprofessionals. He also receives consultative services from an ASD teacher consultant, who helps him with organizational and communication concerns at KVCC, which he attends twice a week.
The National Foundation for Exceptional Children established the Yes I Can! award program in 1981 to acknowledge the achievements of youths with disabilities to seek their highest potential.
“The room erupted in cheers when Cer and the choir finished their first song.”
“It appeared that Cer was blossoming before our eyes - but why?” Irvine wrote. “The answer to this puzzle came to me when the school was invited to a dress rehearsal of the choir prior to the upcoming competition in Holland.
As a winner, Bolton has been invited to attend a special awards ceremony and celebration at the MCEC Conference at the Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. He won’t just be accepting his award, either: The Young Adult Program choir is scheduled to perform at the conference at 10:45 a.m. Thursday and Cer Bolton will sing a solo that evening at the awards ceremony which starts at 6 p.m.