In a moving celebration under a big tent on a sunny West Tisbury spring day, the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School celebrated the school’s 13th graduating high school class, the class of 2013. It was a full house with a standing-room-only crowd that spilled outside the perimeter of the tent next to the school.
A standing ovation greeted the 12 seniors, garlanded with purple flowers, as they ran down the center aisle to take their places on the stage. The graduates — Trey Araujo, Erin Brown, Ian Chickering, Eli Dagostino, Spencer de Langavant-Sahr, Zachary Dupon, Kaelin Nelson, Ruth Oliveira, Teo Reidy, Zachary Smalley, Erin Sullivan, and Oscar Thompson — never seemed to stop smiling.
It was the school’s largest graduating class to date and the first class to include students who had attended the school continuously since kindergarten.
Charter School director Robert Moore began the festivities. “This group represents the qualities of goodness, kindness, and trust,” he said in his opening remarks. He advised the graduates to look for these same qualities in the people they meet along the way.
Teachers, classmates, and students regaled the graduates and attendees with anecdotes and stories about the graduates’ years at the Charter School. Representatives from each of the grades presented gifts to a graduate they had adopted.
The gifts were chosen to help each graduate on his or her post-graduate journey. They included books, calendars, movie script ideas, a rolling pin — gifts appropriate to the students’ interests as defined by interviews conducted by every class, including the kindergarteners.
Members of the high school grades gave walking sticks made from native Island trees to each of the graduates to “support them on their journey through life,” and swag bags that contained tee-shirts, duct tape wallets, key chains, and other useful items.
Each graduate had the opportunity to address the crowd. Most thanked their families, the school, their advisors, and their classmates in short talks. Two seniors spoke at length, in often emotional terms, about their experience.
Eli Dagostino, in an eloquent, prepared speech, recounted his journey to the Charter School. He said that the worst part of the transition to high school was “the apprehension of being meshed, mushed, and clumped into one big group of pubescent teenagers.”
He said that after one year at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School he transferred to the Charter School, “where each kid has their quirks but as a class we form the most enduring of dysfunctional families. A group forever inseparable, filled with drive, determination, and creativity who helped me harness those strengths that I too possess hidden inside.”
He said his new family “supports my adventures and ever-growing loves to the point where I too share their same drive, determination, and creativity. The Charter School in every way breaks the rule that you are not allowed to enjoy or be nourished by your high school years.”
He thanked the significant people in his life and finished his remarks declaring, “Last but not least, if there ever comes a day when I’m as rich and famous as I hope to be and the Charter School is still in need of a gymnasium, I will be donating it.”
He received a rousing ovation.
In a humorous, self-deprecating speech, Erin Sullivan of Vineyard Haven thanked his teachers who allowed him to see that he was “just ignorant and lazy” and helped him discover the importance of learning.
As he fought to hold back his tears, he said, “I would like to thank all the graduates. You are all amazing people. I can’t thank you enough for making the last six years totally awesome.”
At the invitation of the seniors, Charter School English advisor Mathea Morais gave the commencement address. She spoke about the value and significance of words, specific words in particular, as she described each graduate with several key words.
She ended her remarks with two words: “tenacious” and “reality.” She said that “tenacious” defines this class. She said that though their goals have often changed, they have pursued each goal tenaciously, and she encouraged the graduates to continue to be tenacious.
“I am sure you have heard, over and again, how the Charter School on Martha’s Vineyard is not reality, and in fact without living in another reality it is hard to imagine how different our reality is from the rest of America,” she said. “After today you will be heading out into different realities… In my opinion there is a whole lot more that your reality has to offer theirs than the other way around.”
She talked about the caring, nurturing environment of the Vineyard and the Charter School, and of the “compassionate, driven, smart, funny, ambitious, responsible, caring, generous, kind, graceful, stoic, and calming” nature of the graduation class.
“It will be your job as you enter these other realities to bring some of your realty with you, to spread the word about what you have done and what you have learned and to inspire those around you. Let them know that the type of life you come from is not only possible but it is in fact a reality.”
Scholarships were then awarded from various Island groups. Mr. Smalley received the Marvin Joslow Memorial Scholarship, presented by the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association. Miss Oliveira received the Lumina/Darrell Foundation Scholarship. Mr. Thompson received several scholarships, including one from the Thomas H. and Barbara Fish Lee Scholarship Fund, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Scholarship, and the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative Award. Each graduate received a $500 scholarship to assist their continuing education from Options in Education, the Charter School’s non-profit corporation.