For Martha’s Vineyard graduates, a sense of accomplishment

Salutatorian Julia Cooper (left) with commencement Master of Ceremony Madeline Webster. — Photo by Christy Aumer

If it weren’t for their unique pasts and plans for the future, it was hard to tell who was who among the nearly 200 graduates, dressed in purple and white gowns and golden tassels Sunday afternoon at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.

Andrew Freitas moved from Brazil to the Island when he was three years old. Living in Oak Bluffs, he plans to attend Bridgewater State University to study criminal justice, and he says he wants to become a police officer.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a superhero,” Andrew said with a smile. “Kind of pursuing my childhood dream.”

Across the Tabernacle, Maddie Webster from West Tisbury, graduation ceremony emcee, like Andrew, shared with a reporter the influences from their childhood that have shaped their futures. Maddie described her grandfather’s extensive background in history, adding that growing up, she learned how to read from his books, many including information about American presidents.

Maddie is also National Honor Society co-president, with salutatorian Julia Cooper of Edgartown. Each woman, finishing the other’s sentences in a conversation Sunday, said they have been friends for years and have shared “pure enthusiasm for the past two weeks.”

Maddie’s father Peter stood by with a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear. Nothing really surprises him when it comes to Maddie, he said, adding, “She has so much potential.” Maddie received approximately $4,000 in scholarships, and she plans to study U.S. history at Boston College in the fall. Julia will study mathematics at Colgate University.

It was easy for Victoria Sadowski to decide what she wanted to study after high school.

“Art is my calling card,” she said matter of factly. Relaxed and confident, she will emigrate to Maine and attend Maine College of Art. Born and raised on the Island, Victoria shares years of experiences with many of her peers, but she says she often learns new things about them, even at the recent award ceremony. “I thought he was going into law, but he’s going into medical,” Victoria said of one of her classmates. “It’s interesting to find out where people are heading.”

As several frantic graduates asked one another, “Do I turn the tassel right to left, or left to right?” Principal Stephen Nixon advised them to “take a deep breath” and enjoy themselves. Mr. Nixon told the graduates and their families how instrumental the community has been in getting the seniors to their commencement today and helping them sustain their aspirations.

“The community plays such an important role, whether they’re mentors or providing them with jobs,” Mr. Nixon said. “We received over $900,000 in scholarships. I think that is the highest amount we have ever received.” Having that financial help can be influential for many graduates, and for postgraduates as well, who will benefit from $200,000 of the recent scholarship gifts.

“It’s not just to get them there, but to help them continue and keep going,” Mr. Nixon said.

As graduates, family members, friends, and tourists too, stood around the Tabernacle in the brightly sunlit and dramatic setting, Kiel Maurath, a recent addition to the Martha’s Vineyard special education and history faculty, told a reporter it was difficult to believe this day has come.

“As a recent college graduate become faculty member and seeing your own students walk across that stage, and knowing you helped them along the way, is truly remarkable,” Mr. Maurath said. Echoing Mr. Nixon’s remarks about the importance of community, he said he remains impressed at how the Island comes together to help students “follow their dreams.”

“I would give the same advice I would give in the classroom. It’s about being willing to take risks in the hope that you will continue to take risks,” he said. Speaking of his own experiences, he advised, “You’ll regret the risks you don’t take, not the ones you do.”