This is no way to commence


It is distressing to think that members of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Class of 2010 will commence their post-graduate lives Sunday in a spirit of controversy and division. Distressing too that this celebratory day, which is an important fresh beginning for the students and a bittersweet ending for their hard-pressed, loving, and durable parents, should have been wrenched from the cheery and consoling grasp of those two groups, for whom it was always the one shining goal.

Why invoke the bitterness that divides a nation for a class of young people who, despite their individually unique circumstances, were for four years colleagues, classmates, mates, each and all in pursuit of the same goal and the honor to be conferred Sunday? One may very well wonder when, as they step off separately — this one to college, the other to the military, another to a trade, or to visit the world beyond — will they be the single-minded force they have been these last four years. When will they be again as insulated, carefree, and narrowly focused, attentively led, and cared for, as they have been these past four years? When will they be again the cherished dependents of a generous community, determined to do everything possible to give each of them a start?

The group of children, who asked to be allowed to differentiate themselves from their peers on Sunday, with shawls or stoles or scarves over their graduation gowns, may be forgiven. They did not consider that the only differences among them to be celebrated on graduation day were differences in achievement. They did not consider as broadly or carefully as they should have done before making their request. After all, they are merely children, about to be launched in the world but not entirely ready for the occasion.

When the school administration refused their request, as it ought to have, both because of the existing rules and because graduation day means something beyond the individual or the small group’s momentary enthusiasm, the students had a firm grasp of what they wanted but could not reflect on the distortion that the accession to their request would invoke. Who knows, perhaps the refusal might have been better explained and therefore better understood.

The school committee’s shameful decision Monday to abandon the rule and with it the historic significance and unity of graduation day for the Class of 2010 harms the very people whose interests the committee members ought to have sought to protect. They’ve made themselves ridiculous, skittering to scrap a longstanding principle without thought or consultation. They’ve harmed the graduates, all of them as a group, the parents, all of them, the front line troops — that is the school professionals — and the community beyond the schools, whose members pay the bills and recall the June day years ago when they and their graduating classmates sat in the Tabernacle, together in every respect, but for the last time. It’s a terrible toll.

The school committee made the wrong choice and sent the wrong message. They ought to have said, you’ll have lots of time to debate the great world’s perplexing and painful issues, you’re about to be launched among them. But you have been together for four years, so you must be together on Sunday, for your sake and for that of your parents. Instead of this, which requires some thoughtfulness, discipline, and sense of the occasion, the committee members said, in a spirit of empty generosity, indulge yourselves.