Updated 12:05 pm, Tuesday, June 3.
A perfect day and a crowd of friends, family and faculty greeted the five graduates of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) on Sunday. The students strolled toward their futures wreathed in noon sunlight wearing multichromatic sashes. They received their diplomas under a white pavillion on school grounds in West Tisbury.
“With You, Friends” by the dubstep artist Skrillex played as Gregory A. M. Allan, Isabella “Izze” Canham, Chase N. Eppers, Nantawat “Earth” Laothong, and Fawn R. Pelletier, all of Edgartown, took their seats on a small stage facing the crowd. Izze and Fawn wore azure dresses. Gregory wore a white suit with a blue shirt and silver tie, Chase a white polo with navy pants, and Earth a black suit with a plaid shirt. All five graduates bore the traditional MVPCS wreaths of purple and white flowers.
MVPCS Director Robert Moore delivered the welcoming remarks and added some advice for the newest crop of graduates. “We urge you to be the best that you can in what you choose to do,” Mr. Moore told the graduates. “We urge you to continue to grow and learn. And we urge you to continue to contribute to your communities.”
Mr. Moore also honored Francis “Pat” Gregory, a Charter School trustee for five years who was murdered while hiking in California last month. Mr. Moore asked the graduates to follow the example of the longtime West Tisbury town moderator.
“We have a wonderful example of how to contribute to one’s community,” Mr. Moore said. “Pat Gregory was a nice, decent, gentle man who taught us many lessons through his words, actions, and deeds. We can and need to learn from Pat that we can have a positive influence on others, just as Pat had on us and many more.”
Buck Reidy, a member of the board of directors, drew laughs with an opening joke about the weather. “One of the things I love about this place is that one day it can feel like November in Newfoundland, then three days later, I feel like I’m in Bermuda,” he said. “Thank you, mother nature, for smiling on our graduates today.”
Mr. Reidy addressed the five graduates individually, reflecting a common theme during the ceremony and representative of the school’s overall mission.
“One of the advantages of such a small graduating class is we get to focus on you as individuals; it allows us to give you a proper send-off,” he said. “It is our collective hope that you leave this school ready to engage and hopefully make a difference. The five of you constitute the fruit of this school, if you will, the finished product, however unfinished you feel. Like in hide and seek, today you can say, ready or not, here I come. Believe me, you’re ready. Congratulations.”
Each graduate received an individualized gift from each of the younger classes. The kindergarten class presented Earth with a painting of a guitar, a CD, blank music pages for songwriting, a recent guitar catalog, and guitar strings.
The first and second grades gave Izze fresh strawberries, flowers, and a handmade book called “Izze’s Favorite Things.”
The third and fourth graders gave Fawn, the only graduate who had been at the school since kindergarten, an animal calendar, a couple of stuffed animals, and a portable veterinarian box.
The fifth and sixth grades presented Gregory with a scientist’s lab coat decorated with signatures, pizza-making supplies, and the secret recipe for the pizza at the Charter School.
Finally, the seventh and eighth graders gave Chase an intricate compass and a molded coffee mug. As a group, the graduates received themed footy pajamas, bubbles, nightlights, pillowcases, and mugs from the high school students.
Paul Karasik, the MVPCS Development Director, presented each graduate $500 for further education from Options in Education, the scholarship branch of the Charter School. Earth received an additional $500 from the Juliet Burkett Memorial Scholarship, established in 2007 in memory of the former Charter School student.
Each graduate also received an additional personalized award, as well as a copy of Neil Gaiman’s book, “Make Good Art.”
Fawn and Earth gave the graduates’ addresses. Fawn reflected on the surreal experience of leaving after 13 years.
“Don’t think of this as goodbye,” she said. “Think of this as, I’ll see you later.” She concluded to loud applause with a quote by Dr. Seuss. “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”
Earth, a native of Thailand, reflected on being a latecomer. “I barely spoke to anyone my first year,” he said. “I wasn’t shy, but I only knew about 10 words in English. Learning English was hard; studying U.S. history in English was harder.”
His mother and other members of the crowd shed tears when he spoke emotionally about the sacrifices she had made to bring him to the United States, including years of separation for which she asked forgiveness.
“Mom, I have no words to tell you how much I love you, and yes, I forgive you,” he said. The crowd cheered.
At the request of the graduates, Ken Vincent, the high school and junior high school art teacher, gave the commencement address.
He spoke about each graduate. He noted Fawn’s “ability to speak her mind,” Earth’s “tenacity” and “creativeness,” and called Gregory “one of the brightest guys alive,” and thanked them as a group for choosing him.
Mr. Moore and Mr. Reidy conferred the diplomas, and the graduates joined the crowd to the tune of “All My Friends” by the alternative dance band LCD Soundsystem.
With the ceremony concluded, the graduates, teachers, schoolmates, and extended families mingled beneath a set of tents and enjoyed a buffet prepared by the school chef.
“It’s like a family reunion: it’s an excellent day to be here,” Geoff Allan, Gregory’s father said.
In a conversation with The Times after the ceremony, Mr. Moore extended the family analogy. “We celebrate each individual student, their personalities and interest, but it’s also one big family,” he said.
The students now look to the future. Chase Eppers will study computer science at Cape Cod Community College before he pursues his goal of becoming a Marine. Izze Canham will take a gap year to travel, both in the United States and internationally. Earth Laothong will study graphic design at Bunker Hill Community College, and will continue his passion for music. Gregory Allan will continue working at the Boys and Girls Club in Edgartown, and taking online college courses. Fawn Pelletier will study veterinary sciences at Bristol Community College.
“We’re just thrilled by this group of kids, who have done so well,” Claudia Ewing, MVPCS assistant director, said. “We’ve been privileged to have them, this group in particular.”
This story was updated to reflect that Earth Laothong won the Juliet Burkett Memorial Scholarship. An earlier version reported that Fawn Pelletier had received the award.