Updated 7:20 pm
Gwen Lynch, 13, may have been alone as a student, but she certainly wasn’t alone at her graduation ceremony Monday.
At the Cuttyhunk United Methodist Church, surrounded by family, friends, selectmen, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and actress Jenny Slate, best known for her roles on the television show “Parks and Rec” and the movie “Venom,” Gwen received her diploma from the Cuttyhunk Elementary School, finishing top of her class. The ceremony also attracted nearly a dozen media representatives from Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and CBS.
Monday’s graduation ceremony began with speeches from Michelle Carvalho, Gwen’s teacher, and Margaret Frieswyk, the school’s superintendent.
Having taught Gwen from a very young age, Carvalho was able to speak about Gwen’s integrity as a student. She also took the liberty of sharing comments that appeared on Gwen’s report cards through the years. One of the highlights included, “Handles being at school with boys very well,” which got a laugh from the audience because Gwen attended the school with her brother, who graduated last year, and two other boys.
“She is an amazingly capable young woman. She has a warmth about her that attracts people to her, young and old,” Carvalho said. “She’s ready to soar.”
Slate’s speech was a celebration of her time spent with Gwen. She detailed their walks around Cuttyhunk, and said there wasn’t much advice she could give the young graduate aside from sticking to the path she was already on and continuing to be a strong and confident young woman.
“I told you sheepishly that I somehow thought that you would be out here churning butter,” Slate said to Gwen, as the crowd laughed. “You said that people assume that you must be playing with sticks in the mud out here on the island, but you said no. You watch Netflix, have an iPhone, you have friends, and you guys go to the mall.”
She added she was proud to now call Gwen a friend. “Your no-frills confidence is pure and powerful,” Slate concluded. “It is my deep honor to congratulate you on work well done, on being a woman of warm heart and sterling character.”
Recognition and celebration of Gwen traveled from afar as Fernandes presented her with official citations from the Massachusetts House and Senate, another from Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and a third from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Fernandes also recognized her membership in Project 351, a youth service and leadership group that has representatives from all of the commonwealth’s cities and towns.
The most sentimental part of the ceremony came when Gwen’s proud mother, Lexi Lynch, took the podium and became emotional as she spoke about her daughter.
“You amaze me daily, and I’m thrilled that I got to be your mom,” Lynch said before echoing comments made by Cuttyhunk selectmen G. Stewart Young: “It takes a village, in my opinion it takes an island.”
Gwen’s speech, filled with wisdom and wit, was about her time growing up on a small island, learning to love all it offered. She also read an original poem accompanied by music — all met with thunderous applause.
“I can’t believe this day has come, and also can’t believe I get to share it with my friends and family. Thank you Mom and Dad for coming and raising such an awesome child,” she said as the room burst out laughing. Gwen’s father, Duane Lynch, is another graduate from the school that dates back to 1873.
Gwen thanked all her family, friends, and teachers for teaching her over the years. She then moved her tassel across her graduation cap as the small church burst into applause.
“I’m really going to miss everyone here and this wonderful island. I am, however, ready to start the next chapter of my life,” she said.
After the ceremony, Gwen buried a small time capsule near the one-room schoolhouse she had attended for many years. Later in the evening, a public dinner was held for Gwen at the town hall, with a slideshow.
Next up for Gwen is Tilton School in New Hampshire.
“I’m so happy,” Gwen said, adding again she would miss her Island. “I’m excited to leave.”
With its last graduate walking away, Carvalho has pitched using the one-room schoolhouse as a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) academy, with school districts sending students to the tiny island.
Updated with more details from the ceremony and photos.