As the class of 2019 surrounded the Tabernacle Sunday, June 9, clad in white gowns, decorative stoles, and grins from ear to ear, they illuminated the space with reflections of sunshine. The 144 graduates, and their families, friends, teachers, and supporters, filled the Tabernacle and surrounding area to celebrate the commencement of a class described by salutatorian Alexis Condon as one that likes to do “our things, our way.”
In a ceremony of humorous quips, meaningful messages, and full of momentous cheers, graduates from the six Island towns bid farewell to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, and their time as Vineyarders.
“With each bit of experience, you’ve grown,” graduate Harold Brown Lawry V, the master of ceremonies, reminded his class. “Stagnancy is never the right choice.”
The experiences of MVRHS grads may have varied greatly, mused class valedictorian Astoria Hall, winner of the 2019 Superintendent’s Award, but the graduates of this class have all benefited from their time at MVRHS. “I believe that everyone, myself included, has one thing or another about the past four years we will likely feel nostalgic about, such as Houghton’s jokes or our hatred of Nantucket,” Astoria said, rousing many chuckles from audience members.
Many of the class’s speakers chose to thank their dedicated teachers and coaches, “the true leaders,” as class essayist, Adeline “Addy” Hayman, referred to them.
Mackenzie Condon, president of the student council, added to this sentiment, thanking the teachers and coaches who mentored the class, and taught them what really matters, things like the process, rather than the outcome. Mackenzie urged her class, many of whom, she reflected, are likely very familiar and comfortable with their Island home, to break free of the shelter that they have benefited from in adolescence, and make up for lost time by adventuring. Mackenzie laughed that she can’t remember the last time she got lost on Martha’s Vineyard; her message to her classmates: “Get lost, class of 2019.”
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea put it well when he compared the class to the champion Red Sox and Patriots, in their determination to work together through adversity. D’Andrea urged the class of 2019 to allow their momentum in life to build positively, hopefully, he chided, like they would see from the Bruins in Sunday night’s game.
There was an ever-present theme in the day’s celebration — the outspoken, charismatic nature of this class. Principal Sara Dingledy praised the willingness of the class to raise their voices for things that are purposeful, and include those who may not be like themselves. “Inclusiveness is the story of 2019,” Dingledy said, urging the class to continue to create real change, rather than just being a rebel without a purpose beyond themselves.
Principal Dingledy’s remarks were met with mixed reactions, with a couple of students, including members of the student council, standing during her remarks with backs turned in protest, following tensions between students and administration. A group of faculty members stood up and applauded Dingledy’s remarks, creating a short period of confusion during the ceremony that turned into a standing ovation from the crowd.
Student speakers also reflected the recent tensions during their speeches. “Our success despite the shortcomings of our school’s environment is a testament to our unwavering persistence. As long as we keep our passion for progress alive, I am confident that we will find success,” Alexis Condon said in her speech.
However, at the end of the day, the class was there to celebrate whatever challenges they may have overcome. Students and faculty, as well as audience members, stood in solidarity with those protesting and with the administration, resulting in a rousing standing ovation in the middle of Dingledy’s speech. Graduate Owen Engler, who recently attended a school committee meeting to advocate against the school’s disciplinary policies, and was one of the students standing back turned to Dingledy, embraced her in a hug as he walked across the stage.
As the class exited the Tabernacle to the tune of “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, greeting throngs of supporters, it was evident that their unwavering spirit served to inspire the community around them. There were “144 stories culminating and beginning” in that moment, Dingledy pointed out.
Graduate Sashel Blidgen was surrounded by friends and family after the ceremony, her smile a reflection of how good it felt to have graduated, she said. For Sashel, graduation was a step toward her future plans, to study criminal justice at Cape Cod Community College.
Hunter Ponte hugged friends and wished them well outside the Tabernacle. “This is amazing,” Hunter said, “the best feeling in a long time.” Graduation for Hunter meant saying goodbye to his school career, and beginning his next chapter as an apprentice on the Island with Hunter Electric.
Erin DeBettencourt smiled for photos with family and friends there to celebrate her commencement. Although graduation for Erin means that she will soon be headed far away from her Island home to the College of Charleston, in Charleston, S.C., she will not be quick to forget her Vineyard roots, planning to study Portuguese after receiving her seal of biliteracy in the language this year. Erin smiled, “Maybe I’ll come back to the Island, I still have to figure that out.” For now, she just smiled in celebration: “This is great,” Erin said, “finally.”