On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, eight members of the graduating class of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School walked up on a stage under a tent set up in the back of the school and received their diplomas.
The graduating class included Julia Alves of Oak Bluffs, Anna Hill of West Tisbury, Henry Jephcote of Chilmark, Brigida Larsen of Chilmark, Isabella Maidoff of Chilmark, Franklin Pilcher of Chilmark, and twins Dylan and Skyler Cole of East Falmouth. School officials said a ninth student, Austin McGowan of Edgartown, will receive his diploma after finishing up some remaining coursework this summer.
The students, adorned with ceremonial flower headpieces and smiles, sat in a row in front of a large audience that included friends, family, mentors, and teachers. A breeze blew just enough to ripple the rainbow-colored ribbon cascading from the top of the tent as community members mingled and children ran on the playground.
School Director Robert Moore commenced the ceremony by speaking about the importance of friendship, from the close bonds the seniors currently share with their peers to the new relationships they will create in the future.
“Please take with you the idea that friendships and relationships matter,” Mr. Moore said. “Always be kind to others — life is easier when you do.”
In keeping with a charter school tradition, each class in the kindergarten-through-12 school was assigned to present a gift to a graduate.
Isabella Maidoff, who will attend the University of Vermont in the fall, received a bag of kale chips, kale-themed T shirts, a magnet, and a book filled with wishes from the kindergarten class. As the students read their wishes, an audience member handed a tissue to Ms. Maidoff, who was both beaming and tearful.
Franklin Pilcher, who will attend the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in the fall, received a gigantic pillow, embellished with individual decorations, from the first grade class. They said it would help him in college because he could “bring it to the library and sleep on it” when he is cramming for finals.
Brigida Larsen, who will be studying nursing at Anna Maria College in the fall, received a personalized nursing-care package from the second graders. The package included special nursing scrubs, the book How to Stay Healthy, and a “cool packet of band-aids” the class designed to “make you smile.”
Dylan Cole, who will attend Cape Cod Community College in the fall, received “stuff to wear” when he dances and exercises from the third grade class. This included a “Keep Calm and Dance On” T shirt, a “Keep Calm and Study On” T shirt, a “MVPCS — A good friend to play with” T shirt, shoelaces, and sweatbands. He was also presented with handmade beanbags, which he put to use by showing off his juggling skills, to the delight of the audience.
Henry Jephcote, who plans to be a mechanic at Mid-Island Auto, was remembered by the fourth grade class as a student who loves projects but doesn’t love homework. They wanted to give him an “honorary homework pass,” but instead presented him with a little Mustang boxcar and a hammer, which represents the “strength and endurance of a man,” with the student’s signatures.
The fifth and sixth grade classes presented Julia Alves, who will be attending New England College in the fall, with all her favorite things in one package. Knowing she loves lasagna, cats, red lipstick, and pineapple-coconut cake, they presented her with a baked pineapple-coconut cake in a lasagna dish with lipstick candles. The gift was appropriate, because the graduation ceremony also doubled as Ms. Alves’ birthday.
The seventh grade class knew that Skyler Cole loves surfing, farming, and gymnastics. They presented him with a surfing T shirt, surfboard wax, an herb garden with seeds, a tie-dye kit, and sunblock. Mr. Cole will be attending Sterling College in the fall.
Anna Hill, who will be leaving to travel the world, was presented with miscellaneous gifts for her travels from the eighth grade class, including a picture-puzzle brain game, stamps, a yoga mat, a chef’s hat, a charcoal kit for her art, and a flower pot decorated with a sticker she designed.
Following the ceremonial class gift-giving, Development Director Paul Karasik took to the podium to present seven scholarships.
“I spend a lot of time asking for money,” Mr. Karasik joked, noting that the school has finally received enough donations to open a new science lab in the fall of 2016. “This is why I love graduation, because I can spend some time giving money.”
Following the presentation of awards and scholarships, it was time for the students to speak to the audience about their school experience.
Skyler Cole of East Falmouth told his story of commuting to school from off-Island every day for four years. He said he would leave for school at 6:40 am and not return until 5 pm.
“Commuting from off-Island was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Mr. Cole said. “And for a while it was a serious consideration to just stop high school and take the GED. I knew I would never apply to college.”
He said by his third year of high school, he was “worn out, tired of the commute, tired of school, and couldn’t stand the thought of continuing the school routine.”
But then, things changed.
“This year was the best year — this year I attended school with a passion,” he said. “This year I made it through school, I loved school, I created the best portfolio of my career, I decided to attend college, I applied to college, and I was accepted into college.”
He had to pause for uproarious applause before adding one final note.
“This isn’t the biggest feat of any high school graduate, but it is my biggest feat,” he said. “And I sure am proud of what I am doing.”
Brigida Larsen closed out the student speeches with a powerful address about her struggle with self-image and depression.
“I didn’t see much of a future for myself until I transferred to the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School,” she said. “There are just so many aspects of this school that have changed me into the woman I am right now, standing in front of you all. I have not only made it through the bumpy dirt road of high school, but now I am going down the beautiful path known as nursing.”
The commencement speaker was nationally noted recording artist and former Charter School student Willy Mason.
Mr. Mason said there were 6.3 billion people alive on Earth when he graduated, and now there are more than 7.3 billion. He said the planet is showing “signs of strain” from carrying this population.
“We need fresh minds ready to look at things from a whole new perspective,” Mr. Mason said. “In this exciting and changing world, a wide range of skills are necessary. You never know which skill or piece of information will be the key that solves the problem.”
He encouraged the graduates to find their own skills and knowledge to contribute to “this great work in progress,” get to know themselves as individuals, and discover what they feel they can put everything into.
“It is your turn now, and I can’t wait to see where you lead us as your voices are added to the great harmony of humanity,” Mr. Mason concluded.
He ended his remarks with an original song.
With a pleasant mood set by Mr. Mason, the graduates received their diplomas and filed out into the sunny day, smiling, excited, and hopeful for the future.