They couldn’t have done it without you

“Big wallets and little wallets” add up to $1.3 million at Class Night.

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Bella Bennett, the daughter of Beatrice Bennett, announces the recipients of the Beatrice Bennett Great Aspirations Memorial Scholarship Fund winners, Taija M. Brown and Sabrina K. Reppert. — Photo by Siobhan Beasley

Jeff Parkhurst clutched his camera just outside the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle on Friday night. He looked like he was watching a miracle.

Mr. Parkhurst had just photographed his son, Charlie Parkhurst, a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) senior, walking off the Tabernacle stage holding his dream in his hands. Mr. Parkhurst was one of five MVRHS seniors who will attend the college of their choice in September with a fully-funded four-year scholarship. Mr. Parkhurst will attend UCLA.

Mr. Parkhurst, his son, assorted Island educators and dignitaries, most of the MVRHS senior class, family, and friends were in attendance at the 56th MVRHS “Class Night” at the Tabernacle, at which dreams of the Island’s young become reality.

At the edge of the crowd, his dad said, “I’m vibrating. We knew he had won the scholarship, but to see it tonight …” Mr. Parkhurst shook his head slowly. “This is massive for us. It changes his life, what he can do. An education at UCLA costs $250,000. We could never have afforded it.”

Charlie Parkhurst’s class is the first at MVRHS to benefit from a unique scholarship concept developed by MVYouth, a group of more than 45 largely seasonal residents who have raised $5 million to put back into the Island community, including scholarships. The MVYouth scholarship team interviewed 12 finalists, picked five (the semifinalists each received an iPad and a $1,000 gift certificate to the college bookstore of their choice), and filled in the financial gaps after other scholarships and grants so that no loans would be required to pay for tuition, board, and books: more than $300,000 in total.

Charlie Parkhurst called me late Friday night, after he had collected his scholarship and hustled over to the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks game to do his job as team statistician (but before going to a graduation party). He will go to UCLA to study economics and entrepreneurship.

“It blows my mind that [MVYouth] is doing this. I was thinking I’m in just the first round of kids who will get to have this. It’s been part of my goal to give back to the Island some day. After what they’ve done, I’m committed to doing well and returning the favor,” he said.

One story among literally hundreds at Class Night, a community tapestry that is rewoven every year, interlacing the critical strands of life here: helping others, remembering the past, planning for the future. If you want to know what this Island is about, go to Class Night.

Earlier in the day, I spoke with David Oliveira, the father of MVRHS grad and 2015 Providence College (PC) grad Alicia Oliveira. He knows both sides of the college tuition coin. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Oliveira put his large hands on the counter at the Edgartown Hardware paint store off State Road in Vineyard Haven, and talked about the financial scramble most families find themselves in.

Ms. Oliveira received an Army ROTC scholarship for most of her $52,000-per-year education at PC. But first she had to get into Providence, and then perform well. “The Island scholarship program got us going. Alicia probably got $20,000, all told, in scholarship money, including Island scholarships. So we got through the first year financially somehow. Then she won the ROTC scholarship, and the Army doesn’t hand them out like candy these days. You have to earn it,” he said. “Without the Island scholarships, I don’t know how we would have done it. We’re grateful,” he said.

Early Friday night, Lucas DeBettencourt walked toward the Tabernacle with his mother Laura and his grandmother. Lucas is a strapping MVRHS sophomore with a slow, easy grin. On Friday night he wrestled with a necktie determined to escape his shirt collar.

For the past four years, Lucas has presented a scholarship named for his late dad, Peter Lucas DeBettencourt, a salt of the earth guy who died 13 years ago at age 43 when Lucas was a moppet. He is comfortable doing this presentation. “I love doing this,” he says simply. His mom said the scholarship is intended to go to “family and friends, kids interested in attending Penn State, Peter’s alma mater, or with interest in architecture, his career. We focus a lot on family and friends,” she grinned, adding, “This is good for him, helps to keep his father’s memory alive for him.”

A big part of the intensity at Class Night is just that, the calling of the roll of past lives and contributions, the Ryan Mones and Herb Putnams, stirring memories and recollections for the hundreds in the Tabernacle, including a handful of people who sit alone in the back, listening quietly.

Mike McCarthy is the director of guidance at MVRHS, and has been the director of the scholarship program and its culture for a long time. “Twenty years ago, we gave out $314,000 in scholarships. This year it’s $1,344,000. MVYouth was big for us this year. And the Louise, Sven, and Betty Ann Carlson Scholarship Fund totaled $100,000 this year. Yeah, it’s both, big wallets and little wallets. It’s just the community which wants our kids to have choices for their lives,” he said. “This community understands that college cost have risen dramatically, that our kids can’t commute to college easily. The community puts their money where their mouth is,” he said. In all, 152 separate donors made 682 separate awards, 466 of them to graduating seniors and 216 awards to recent postgrads, he said.

At the end of the day, scholarships are about training the next generation.

Joyce Rickson, an Island nurse active in the League of Women Voters (LWV), presented a $1,200 scholarship to senior Ellen Reagan. “Our judging involves an essay with the application. We rotate themes between women’s rights, the environment, and political science. This year, our theme was political science. You can tell which kids have a certain passion, and it was gratifying to see this girl is concerned about our government and our relationships with other countries,” Ms. Rickson said.

For a detailed list of all award recipients, see the Graduation supplement in this week’s Times.