The best and the brightest

Checking in with the MVRHS valedictorians.

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In January of this year, the Boston Globe ran a five-part series tracking valedictorians who graduated from Boston high schools between 2005 and 2007. The results were not encouraging: One in four failed to get a bachelor’s degree within six years. One-quarter aspired to be doctors, but no one had earned a medical degree. Forty percent made less than $50,000 a year. And four had been homeless.

Granted, the Vineyard is not Boston, but nonetheless, we wanted to see how our valedictorians fared out in the world. We spoke with 11 valedictorians* who had graduated since 2004, and one who graduated in 1983, Nicole Galland. Nicole is a friend and contributor to The MV Times, so we decided to throw her into the mix as well.

The bottom line is that this turns out to be a feel-good story. The Vineyard valedictorians went to some of the finest colleges and universities in the country: Harvard, Stanford, Duke, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Columbia Law School … Samantha Potter (2015) will be going to Oxford University in the fall.

The students have gone on to careers in law, investment banking, medicine, linguistics, and writing. And there’s Truman French (2015), who started a company on the Island that farms shiitake mushrooms. And most important, most all of our respondents find the work they’re doing to be fulfilling. They also give high marks to the job MVRHS did in preparing them for college. As 2005 valedictorian Eric Herman said, “Yes. I was prepared for college-level courses. I wasn’t prepared for driving on highways and stoplights.”

2017, Whitney Schroeder

Whitney Schroeder just finished her sophomore year at Harvard; she’s concentrating in neuroscience. After graduation, she plans to attend a physician assistant program in order to receive her P.A. certification. From there, she plans to work as a physician assistant in a hospital or other medical setting. “I hope to use my background in neuroscience to take a more specialized approach as a P.A.,” Schroeder wrote in an email. She’s happy with her choice of Harvard, and “honored to be studying under some of the greatest professors in the world.” She also has taken advantage of many volunteer opportunities in Cambridge and Greater Boston. Schroeder feels that the teachers at MRVHS provided her with the knowledge and critical thinking skills that she needed to have a smooth transition into the college setting.

 

2015, Samantha Potter

Samantha Potter is currently a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. She will graduate with two bachelor’s degrees — in English and law. Upon graduation, Potter will attend Oxford University to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy in international relations. She believes that MVRHS prepared her to excel at USAFA. “I am graduating third in my class,” Potter wrote in an email, “and got a full scholarship to Oxford. At USAFA, nearly 20 percent of incoming freshman are valedictorians — so I would say to still be on top is a testament to how well MVRHS prepared me to succeed here.”

 

2014, Sarah Ortlip-Sommers

Sarah Ortlip-Sommers graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Stanford in 2018, and will start her second year at Columbia Law School in the fall.

Ortlip-Sommers studied politics because she was interested in learning about our country’s — and the international community’s — governing processes. “I’m particularly excited for the fall,” she wrote in an email, “when I’ll be working with Columbia’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, helping real immigrant clients find refuge in the U.S. Having grown up on an Island with such a vibrant immigrant community, I find the opportunity to help immigrants while in law school is tremendously rewarding.”

 

2013, John Roberts

Jack Roberts graduated from Williams College in 2018, he was a pre-med student and majored in chemistry. He was also captain of the Williams baseball team his senior year.

“My senior year I completed a chemistry thesis on the acquisition of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Williams was definitely challenging, but I very much enjoyed my time there,” Roberts said. “MVRHS did a great job preparing me for college.”

Currently Roberts is doing clinical research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. He recently took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and will apply to medical schools this summer. “Working at the Hospital for Special Surgery has been very fulfilling,” Roberts said, “and I am very passionate about attending medical school and becoming a doctor.”

 

2012, Will Stewart

Will Stewart graduated from Harvard University in 2017 with a degree in applied math and statistics. Today he works as an investment banker at Centerview Partners in New York City. Stewart took a gap year between his sophomore and junior years. He spent the time fishing, working on an internship, and traveling. “I felt like the opportunity to step back for a year might lend perspective on why I was at Harvard in the first place,” Stewart wrote in an email. “It ended up being a great decision.”

Stewart said that the transition to college wasn’t always easy. “When I got to Harvard, there was certainly an acclimation process,” Stewart wrote. “Transitioning from the small pond that is the Vineyard into the much, much larger body of water at Harvard wasn’t always easy. All of a sudden, my accomplishments felt insignificant next to some of the incredible people around me. I would say that after my first semester, I had settled in pretty well, but it really wasn’t until my junior year [after his gap year] that I felt like I had my arms around the whole thing.”

 

2010, Shaelah Huntington

After MVRHS, Shaelah Huntington graduated from Connecticut College with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry cellular and molecular biology. “I work in healthcare today,” Huntington wrote in an email, “which was always the plan.”

For the past three and a half years she has been a clinical research coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “I would say I’m happy for now in what I’m doing,” Huntington wrote, “but it’s not what I want to be doing forever. I’m working toward going back to school to become a nurse practitioner, so my job now is good preparation for that.”

Huntington felt prepared for college after leaving MVRHS. “I had some great teachers at MVRHS,” Huntington wrote, ”and then I went to a very small college, so it felt familiar, and I was able to build similar relationships with professors as I did in high school.”

 

2009, Bethany Pennington

Bethany Pennington graduated with honors from Wheaton College (Illinois) in 2013, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University.

Pennington has worked in college admissions and coaching; in government and community relations with an international anti-trafficking organization in Bolivia; in Mexico City coaching and facilitating partnerships for a nonprofit network, and coordinating programs at an immigrant services organization in New York City.

“It has been fulfilling to live in so many different places, facilitate connections between people and opportunities, and contribute to justice-oriented programs,” Pennington said. “I’m also grateful for the many wise, encouraging people in my life — community makes all the difference!”

 

2008, Truman French

After MVRHS, Truman French graduated from Harvard University, where he studied economics. Today, he is partner in M.V. Mycological, a business that farms shiitake mushrooms here on the Vineyard.

“Studying economics has very little to do with what I do now directly,” French wrote in an email. “Indirectly, I believe it underpins most of the choices and decision-making that go into running a business, such as game theory and macroeconomic trends (the movement toward sustainable local foods).

“Farming mushrooms is the result of wanting to participate in a positive sustainable way of producing food. I feel like I am living as close to my ideals as I can.”

 

2007, Samantha Rabin

Samantha Rabin went to undergraduate school at Hamilton College where she majored in sociology and minored in dance and movement studies. “I found that Hamilton was challenging and rewarding,” Rabin said, “it felt rigorous without feeling insurmountable. I felt prepared to handle the rigor of the coursework I encountered and I felt that many of my high school teachers helped to instill the skills necessary to feel confident within the college classroom.”

Since graduating from Hamilton, Rabin has been living in New York City and working in the field of education and education technology. She is about to begin graduate school at Bank Street College of Education to obtain a master’s degree in education (teaching childhood special and general education with dual certification).

 

2005, Eric Herman

Eric Herman attended Carnegie Mellon University for one year, then transferred to UNC Chapel Hill, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and exercise and sport science.

He then joined the Peace Corps as a youth development volunteer in Honduras. “The time I spent working in Honduras was life-changing,” wrote Herman in an email, “not least of which was because I got married in Honduras to a girl from the town I was working in. Yasmin and I moved back to Martha’s Vineyard, where I taught Spanish at the Edgartown School for four years.”

After a year teaching middle school at a private school in Charlotte, N.C., the Hermans moved to Florida, where Eric started his graduate studies. He got a master’s in Hispanic linguistics from Florida State University, and starts his Ph.D. program in Hispanic linguistics at FSU in the fall.

 

2004, Hans Buder

Hans Buder received his bachelor’s degree from Duke University in 2008, his M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2013, and his master’s degree in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2014.

After college he joined a program called Teach for America, and spent two years teaching in an inner-city public school in post-Katrina New Orleans. “During that period after the storm, there was a great deal of reform happening in the city,” Buder wrote in an email, “certainly in the education space, but also in housing.” And that’s how Buder became interested in real estate that had a social impact.

Two years ago, Buder founded the Moving to Opportunity Fund, a social impact–focused real estate investment firm that puts low-income kids born into concentrated poverty on the path to college, while delivering market-rate returns for investors.

 

1983, Nicole Gallland

Nicole Galland got her undergraduate degree at Harvard, and she would later get her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, on fellowship. Her undergraduate degree was in the comparative study of religion, which, as she entertained the idea of becoming a novelist, seemed like a good way to study humanity in general.

“I’m writing novels for a living,” Galland wrote in an email, “but I got here the long way around. I went from acting to pursuing theater directing/scholarship to flirting with the idea of directing for screen. Somewhere in there I also ran the literary department at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and when the spirit moves me, I will freelance dramaturg scripts I really love.”

Do you feel fulfilled writing novels, I asked. “Didn’t anyone tell you never to ask writers that question?” she replied.

And do you think MVRHS prepared you for college? “Well, I survived Harvard, so it would be terribly bratty of me to say no, wouldn’t it?” she said.

 

News intern Josephine Brennan contributed to this story.

 

* We also reached out to Rose Engler (2018), Jared Livingston (2016), Sarah Johnson (2011), and Simone McCarthy (2006), but we were unable to contact them.