Autumn Barrett, an Oregon Connections Academy senior from Summerville, is accustomed to performing before large audiences, but not anything like the size of the one that will greet her this weekend.

Barrett, 18, has been named the featured singer for this year’s Oregon Connections Academy commencement ceremony Saturday in Salem. A veteran of six musicals performed at the Elgin Opera House, Barrett does not anticipate being nervous even though an audience of between 1,500 and 2,000 is anticipated. This will be far more than the Elgin Opera House’s capacity of just less than 300.

“(My experience with musicals at the Elgin Opera House) has definitely built on-stage character,’’ said Barrett, who appeared in musicals including Mary Poppins and Hairspray.

The Summerville senior will be singing the National Anthem at the beginning of the graduation ceremony. Barrett will be among the Oregon Connections Academy graduating seniors at the ceremony. ORCA is the state’s longest running online public charter school.

Barrett said attending an online school has been ideal for her in part because it has allowed her to work at her own pace and to concentrate on her classes without being distracted by classmates.

“It has definitely let me hyper focus on classes and given me scheduling flexibility,” Barrett said, noting it has allowed her to do more extracurricular activities, such as her participation in the Opera House’s productions.

Barrett is graduating as someone excited about the prospect of being a lifelong learner.

“I think we (should) never stop learning, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon,” the senior said.

She sounds like a commencement speaker when talking about the value of learning, urging everyone to dive deep intellectually.

“Knowledge is great, and it’s a right we have fought for since the beginning,” Barrett said in an ORCA news release. “Take the chance you’re given, learn all you can, and then take that knowledge and put it to good use.”

Barrett’s many passions include volunteering at the Blue Mountain Humane Association, Union County’s animal shelter. For her
senior project, she worked on the association’s digital medical platforms. Barrett did things like update Blue Mountain Humane Association’s website and Instagram account.

The talented Union County teenager is also an avid equestrian who formed a horse riding club, the Mystic Riders, which has appeared in many local parades. In September, the Mystic Riders may take part in the Pendleton Round-Up Parade, said her mother, Lea Hutchison, in an ORCA news release.

Barrett attended a traditional bricks and mortar school as a child before switching to online learning during middle school.

“After joining Oregon Connections Academy, I excelled in ways I never had before. I kept up and moved far beyond what I have ever imagined of myself,” she said.

Barrett credits ORCA’s broad range of classes with making it easy for her to discover what she is passionate about while learning at her own pace.

“I believe this school is great for students who need a challenge and are willing to work hard,” Barrett said.

About 450 graduating ORCA students from throughout Oregon are expected to be at Saturday’s ceremony, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

At graduation, Barrett said she is excited about meeting for the first time classmates she has communicated with often via the Internet as an ORCA student.

“I will be putting faces to words of fellow classmates,” Barrett said.

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