Maria McQuaide paused for a moment, then closed her eyes and shook her head sheepishly.
McQuaide was revisiting a painting she had drawn in sixth grade on a concrete brick of the wall in the Penns Valley Elementary and Intermediate School cafeteria.
Come to think of it, she didn’t even know the reason she had drawn some of the artwork.
If the now-senior at Penns Valley Area High School went back in time she might have painted something different.
“I guess if I had to come back, I’d draw something like a landscape or something more artsy,” said McQuaide, 18, of Centre Hall, who in addition to excelling in academics and athletics is an accomplished painter.
She pointed at the word “Burn” in the middle of her drawing and said she couldn’t remember its meaning.
But then she saw the drawings of a chemical beaker and other science images, a boxer dog, a symbol from the movie “Twilight” and Penns Valley track, and remembered those were some of her interests when she was 12.
In fact, science is still an interest as she plans to attend Penn State to study aerospace engineering with a minor in astrobiology.
While excited for the next chapter of her life after graduation on Saturday, she was nostalgic looking back on her youth.
“I’ll miss the classes and the friends,” McQuaide said. “In a small school, we have a really great bond. … Looking at this, it just reminds me of who I was in (elementary) school and how my interests have changed and I’ve grown as a person.”
Penns Valley will graduate 106 students this year. McQuaide was just one of a group of classmates who participated in the project that turned the cafeteria into an art collage representing every student who graduated from the school.
It was a project that former art teacher Pat Wolfe introduced to the school in 2005 from the Gregg Township Elementary School in Spring Mills that closed the same year.
Since her retirement in 2006, two other teachers have continued the project.
Now it is in the hands of art teacher Stephanie Ripka, who hopes to make it an annual project until every brick in the cafeteria is painted.
“It’s their final sendoff,” Ripka said. “It’s up to them what they want to draw. This represents who they are as they’re getting out of here and going on to the middle school.”
The final part of this year’s project wrapped up last month with about 100 extra paintings. That brings the total to about 1,000 bricks painted in the cafeteria.
Colton Sands, 12, of Tusseyville, painted his assigned brick black and drew a basketball, a Nike sign and an Air Force insignia on it.
“These are some of my interests,” he said. “We brainstormed some ideas in class and I think we all wanted things that showed what we like.”
His goal is to enter the Air Force after he graduates high school in 2021, and he wants his drawing at the school to be a reminder of his vision.
“I hope if I look back on this when I’m a senior, I would have represented myself well and remember the times at school and with friends, and that I accomplished what I wanted to do,” he said.
Senior Tiger Welch, 18, of Spring Mills, said he encourages future sixth-graders to draw the things that tell a story about themselves.
With a name like Tiger, he said, his first instinct was to paint a brick with tiger print on it.
He also added a chicken to represent the chickens his family owned, along with “15” and “PSU” for the year he would graduate high school and a representation of his favorite college — although he’ll attend Bloomsburg University in the fall.
And Welch added that no one should regret the things they draw because they represent their 12-year-old selves — just as Welch’s brick represented him six years ago.
“I can tell you what I’d draw now — probably something about soccer or track — but if I come back to you after I graduate college and look back at that, it will probably change again,” he said. “This is a good symbol of who we were and what we’ve become, and how we made our mark on the school.”