For Fort Osage High School graduate Ashlee Burlile, it was the encouragement and professional advice she received from instructors that kept her attending the George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts the past three years.

“They allowed me to experiment with different kinds of media,” she said about the academy. “They always encouraged me and never harshly criticized my work.”

What’s billed as the only summer school of its kind in the nation had its 18th graduating ceremony Wednesday at Truman High School’s auditorium. Eighty-seven students from nearly 20 schools throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area graduated from the five-week program in areas of creative writing, music, theater and visual art. This particular class also had the distinction of having a theater student, Lance Lanier of Lee’s Summit, attend the academy a record five times.

When asked to describe Academy, the words “encouraging” and “opportunity” came to the minds of both students and faculty.

“So often we forget the fine arts,” Independence Superintendent Dale Herl told those in attendance at the graduation ceremony. “The George Caleb Bingham Academy gives opportunities to students they may not be able to have.”

One notable example of opportunity was music student Brooke Cottrell. The William Chrisman High School senior is visually handicapped, yet danced gracefully onstage with her fellow students during the showcase portion of the program and was also presented an award by Herl for her dedication.

Director Molly Clemons said students who are interested in enrolling at the academy next summer must fill out an application, along with submitting examples of their work, depending on their area of art. For instance, creative writers must submit a portfolio of compositions, while live performance artists either have to recite a monologue or provide a recording of a past performance.

Followed by the graduation was the showcase of performance art with the theme, “100 Years Ago.” Silent movie sketches, vaudeville acts and ragtime jazz were performed by students to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this past Saturday plus the 100th birthday of the McCoy school building, 1108 S. Pearl Street in Independence where the Bingham Academy offices are located. Clemons said students also got the opportunity to visit the World War I Museum in Kansas City to gain a better understanding of the era.

As for Burlile, she said the academy’s guest speakers have helped her hone her craft. She is continuing her passion of art by attending Full Sail University in Florida this fall where she hopes to become a concept artist in the video game industry.