On Sunday afternoon, the seven graduating seniors of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School class of 2016 proudly paraded past the standing-room-only audience of parents, teachers, and friends as the rain conveniently held back from dampening spirits. It was the school’s 16th commencement. Robert Moore, the MVCS director, commenced the proceedings by welcoming all, and congratulating the graduates for their accomplishments, and in particular for their serving as “daily role models” and “good stewards of the school and the Island community.” Mr. Moore referred to the Winford Rice quote: “Do not ask what the world needs, but ask what makes you come alive … and go and do it … follow your passion.”
Scholarship presentations followed, and were introduced by MVPCS development director Paul Karasik; representatives of each scholarship presented their award. Awards included scholarship gifts from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the League of Women Voters, Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association and Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, to name a few. Gabriel Canham received a $7,700 award scholarship from the Harriet N. Goldberg Fund, the largest single scholarship ever administered by the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard.
Astrid Tilton, Cassius Paquet-Huff, Cyrus Kennedy, Hannah Gonzales, and Zale Narkiewicz each gave a personal Graduate Address to a proud — sometimes teary — crowd of well-wishers, and received high applause from all.
Astrid thanked the school and her teachers: “You helped me find and discover who I am as an individual … and discover the power of community. I can now share my own knowledge with others … I have all the tools I need. The Charter School showed me the world is full of possibilities … and how much fun it is to change the world.”
Cassius Paquet-Huff was also grateful to his teachers: “Faculty, family, friends; these are three “f-words” that Sarah [Smith] would let me say in her class … you taught me how to keep going through doubt. You taught me how to stop listening to my inner critic, and start listening to the critics all around me, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”
Cyrus Kennedy said, “I’d love to thank everybody at the Charter School for teaching me to think critically about everything you do and everything you say and the impact it has.”
On behalf of his fellow classmates, Cyrus presented the school with a wooden tea table for the community to share.
Science teacher Louis Hall was asked by the students to give the commencement address.
“Because of [your] hard work and determination,” he said, “[you] are armed with the tools for success … the people of the school will miss you dearly, that will never change … but going forward, many things will change. [You will be] searching for the nuts and berries of life.”
In this quest, Mr. Hall cited five points to remember: Unplug from technology; do or do not; be kind to everyone; live simply and by example; be ready for change, and embrace it.
Nelia Decker and Director Moore concluded the proceedings with the presentation of the diplomas, and then family and friends gathered under the refreshment tent to congratulate the seven strong: Astrid Tilton, Cassius Paquet-Huff, Christopher Cartier, Cyrus Kennedy, Gabriel Canham, Hannah Gonsalves, and Zale Narkiewicz.
Cassius Paquet-Huff’s graduation speech
I’ve never written a speech before, and I never wanted to. Writing a speech was kind of like graduating in that sense, or at least I thought it was until I actually started going through the process myself. During our departure, I came to a realization, and my teachers won’t like this, but I actually wouldn’t mind another year in this school. I’m 13 years into my academic career at MVPCS, and still not sick of the place. As I was leaving, I think I may have even grown more attached to it, seeing the sentiment this community has for not only its seniors but for every student attending. And I wanted to return that in any way I could, whether it be by writing a speech, or graduating and representing the Charter School as best I can wherever I go.
First, I want to thank my mom and my dad. I love you guys; you’re my motivation to stay in school. Even when I was little and I had no idea what I was doing with my life, I thought of how I wanted to be rich one day just to buy you out of all the things that worry you. You didn’t just teach me how to live, you made me live, and you supported me whenever I needed it, and I needed it a lot, over these long 18 years. Growing older and realizing how vulnerable everything really is made me appreciate you like I couldn’t before.
Secondly, I want to thank the teachers, from the ones I don’t know to D.C. [Deb Cutrer] and Louis [Hall], who are practically like family at this point.
Faculty, family, friends — these are three “F-words” that Sarah [Smith] would let me say in her class. Sarah is a member of the grammar police, but more importantly a friend. I’m not going to say you taught me that my writing is good, because I don’t know that it is, but you taught me how to keep going through doubt. You taught me how to stop listening to my inner critic, and start listening to the critics all around me, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
Next, I want to thank Jonah [Maidoff] because I don’t think I would have ever left the country without him. I’m hesitant to schedule anything now that he won’t be there. You just give off an aura of wisdom after all these years; people feel safer on a trip if Jonah is there. I don’t think many people understand their students like Jonah does; that’s part of the reason why we all enjoy your class so much.
Franklin’s [Pilcher] speech last year was revolutionary. It did something that none had done before, it thanked Tim [Penicaud]. I’m here in Franklin’s place for the second year in a row, thanking Tim. Up until eighth grade, you taught me how to take it easy in sports, and have a fun time. And then came basketball. Suddenly the score was no longer “fun to fun,” and taking it easy wouldn’t get you any minutes. That’s the way we like to play now, and I can thank Tim for that.
Calder [Martin] was another teacher who seemed to really understand his students. If you were good at math, yeah, he might like you, but if you were trying to learn, he was your biggest fan. I think just sitting around and talking some mornings in math class is really what kept our class sane these past two years.
Louis, not being in your class is going to be like the “Star Wars Holiday Special” … terrible. I really will miss all the morning banter that went down in the north advisory. I always enjoyed Louis’ class because he has a sense of humor and compassion for the environment that I’d say all of us share.
Ken [Vincent]), it’s been hard staying interested in art. With so many responsibilities and videogames, I couldn’t always find the time, but Ken made me want to find the time. You told me my drawings were good when I really didn’t think so, and you made me a better artist every day I was in your class. Thanks, Ken, for not letting me forget art, and for understanding when I did.
D.C., I feel like I don’t have to say anything because you already know. You were the second of my many moms at MVPCS. On the behalf of everyone here, thank you for being you.
Emily [Cavanagh], before I took your class, I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer. The praise that you gave me kept me writing, and the criticism only made me better. I think I owe motivation to you, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
The problem with writing a big thank-you speech is that I’ve had too many teachers, and I can’t thank them all. To anyone I missed, I’ll miss you, and you’re not forgotten. Me reading up until this point means I’ve made it to the point of no return, where a normal high school speech goes on too long. So thank you, all of you, you mean the world to me; shout out to the boys: Clancy, Jared, Avery, Mateo, Cyrus, and whoever moved these stages. I don’t regret a single year here.