A light breeze and sunny skies made for perfect conditions Sunday as 11 seniors, adorned with crowns of leaves, at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School were handed their diplomas in a heartwarming ceremony that featured speeches, awards, and plenty of gifts.
Parents, friends, family, and teachers gathered on white lawn chairs facing the graduates’ stage underneath a large Sperry tent festooned with colored cloth.
Robert Moore, the longtime director of the Charter School who is set to retire this year, kicked things off with a welcome address to the graduates, citing community service, leadership, and creativity as traits that come to mind when he thinks of all the students have done and continue to do. “Your intellectual pursuit and care for others has made us stop and say thank you,” Moore said to the graduates. “It is my honor to bear witness to your graduation.”
As part of the Charter School’s graduation tradition for its small group of annual graduates, specially designed gifts and awards are presented to the tight-knit group of students. Each student received a personalized gift from a lower-level class at the Charter School that spoke to their character, their virtues, and sometimes their quirks.
Eleanor Dankert, one of the graduates, was presented with a homemade superhero cape, Captain America shield made from an old satellite dish, and a Black Panther Wakandan shield, because she and the younger students shared a passion for Marvel comic heroes. Autumn Aluia Richards, a graduate known for not wearing shoes, was given seven pairs of socks that each had a haiku written by students in a lower-level class. Dash Loth-Rozum, a graduate who will be going on a yearlong journey aboard a boat, was given a book filled with advice from some of the younger students; “try not to get seasick” and “don’t fall off the boat” were met with extra applause.
Each graduate was given a personalized award that showcased some of their interests. Some of the awards included the “Quincy Jones Everything to Do with Music Award,” presented to Nathan Lopez-Mata, a graduate with a musical background; the “Madeleine Albright Do Something Award,” given to Keith Chatinover for his commitment to change and activism; and the “Stella McCartney Fashion Forward Award,” given to Lily Tilton for her passion for fashion.
Several scholarships were awarded to the students from various organizations. All 11 of the graduates were awarded the Claudia Ewing Continuing Education Scholarship.
Keith won two awards: the 2018 League of Women Voters Scholarship, and the Thomas H. Lee and Barbara F. Lee Award for his interest in environmentalism from the Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment.
The Tisbury Police Relief Association awarded graduate Claudia Motta with its scholarship, saying she would best represent the community. The last scholarship was given dually to graduates Marshall Davidson and Tilton by the Vineyard Artisans and Vineyard Craftsmen Scholarship Fund for their interest in the arts.
While the graduates were showered with gifts and awards, the students themselves took a moment to give a present to their school in the form of two picnic tables they made and painted.
Jeremy Light, a former Charter School teacher, gave the commencement address for the graduates, some of whom he had taught in social studies. “I had the pleasure of teaching the majority of this group when they were in the 10th grade. This was a unique class to me, as it was the first group I had ever taught when I arrived on-Island. This was a group of kids behind me that made me truly feel welcome. There was no judgment of what I looked like, how I spoke, or what I wore. These kids opened their world to me, and made me feel like I was welcomed and I belonged,” he said. “You’ve made this school a better place, and you’ve made an impact on this Island, but I challenge you to continue to make an impact wherever you go. Do not settle, push the envelope, make the changes you want in our world.”
Dash led the student speeches with a heartfelt thank-you to many of his friends, family, and teachers who helped him finish out school even when it was tough. “It’s been real and it’s been fun, but it wasn’t real fun,” he concluded with a laugh.
Claudia gave a short speech to her classmates, and an emotional speech to her family in Portuguese.
Keith ended the student speeches with a inspiring address, calling for his classmates to be idealistic and follow their passions. He also expressed his appreciation for the Charter School. “I will carry this school in my heart forever,” he said.