By Alexis Condon
After having held the reins of the high school guidance department for 19 years, Michael “Mike” McCarthy is set to release them this June.
Mr. McCarthy began working as a guidance counselor at the Edgartown School in 1976 and a year later became the athletic director at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). In 1981, he left the Vineyard to work at Edwin O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut, but then returned to the Vineyard in 1998 to take the high school guidance director position.
“Being able to work closely with so many talented, interesting students has been the highlight of my career,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I have been blessed to work in two school systems that totally support education, giving us the tools to work effectively with our students. Over the years, I have learned as much from the students as I have been able to share with them.”
Mr. McCarthy has been influential in starting many programs for the school that encourage discussions about peer relationships. He helped, for instance, to bring the Race Culture Retreat to the school, which has been going on for over a decade. He also was a key leader in starting the Peer Outreach program with Amy Lilavois in 2005.
“Mike has the strongest trust and confidence in each member of our department, and we can feel that every day,” Amy said. “He doesn’t always hover or check to make sure we’re doing what we should be doing—sometimes we’re so busy that days will go by without seeing each other—but then he’ll pop into my office, close the door and sit down, eat a few Tootsie rolls, check in and chat, not just about work, but about life. He’s interested in our lives not because we’re his staff, but because he cares so deeply about each of us on a personal level,” she said.
Audrey McCarron, a junior, knows she will feel the gap Mr. McCarthy will leave. She said, “Throughout my high school experience Mr. McCarthy has done a lot for me. Whether he is helping me change my schedule—it’s more complicated than you’d think—or helping me plan my future after high school, I am thankful for everything he’s done for me,because I could not have done it alone. Mr. McCarthy is someone who is always there to help and is a friendly face in the building. His experience and years of insight into this school will be missed.”
Whitney Schroeder, a senior, has had Mr. McCarthy as a counselor since sophomore year. “I have definitely enjoyed having him as a guidance counselor. His first-hand experience is unmatched. He is compassionate and highly approachable, and I have gotten to know him better through the connections he makes to his own experiences to help me better understand the school and the world around me.”
Whitney, who will be going to Harvard University in the fall, gives much thanks to Mr. McCarthy for navigating her through the often exhausting college application process. “He built me up, gave me confidence, and took the majority of the stress away from the application process. It was inspiring to realize that someone could have that much faith in me,” she said.
With so much to leave behind, the transition to retirement will not be easy. “It’s hard to imagine life without the daily interaction with students and the support of the caring, professional staff in the guidance office, the teachers, and the school community. While helping others can be quite challenging at times, the reward is like no other,” Mr. McCarthy said.
While he will miss the students, Mr. McCarthy is content to leave the stress behind. “Over the years, I am sure that I have had a number of sleep-interrupted nights, but with experience I have learned to compartmentalize my work and my personal life. That does not mean I was perfect at it. Working in two rural, small communities I grew to appreciate the personalization you develop in your professional and personal life,” he said.
Having spent 41 years in education, Mr. McCarthy is ready for the next chapter in his life, as he retires alongside his wife Susan. He said, “My wife and I are looking forward to having more quality time with our family. Life is full of transitions. We have enjoyed experiencing our own children going through their lives. This is just another opportunity for us to grow and move forward.”