Charter School Graduation

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The four were barefoot, with flower laurels on their heads as they walked down the aisle beneath the white tent to take their seats center stage on Saturday afternoon, as Aretha Franklin's Respect boomed from the sound system. Close to 200 people stood, roaring in support of Walker Blackwell, Sarah Maxner, Elana Robinson-Lynch and Indaia Whitcombe, celebrating these first graduates of the first-ever commencement day in the five-year history of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.

"It is a special day for the graduates, the founders and many others who believed in the dream of a public school option on Martha's Vineyard. Today is a celebration of that dream and a special opportunity to be thankful to the many family and friends who believed in the dream and brought the dream to fruition," said director of the school Robert Moore in his opening remarks. A kindergarten class was established this year, fulfilling the founders' dream by completing the full spectrum of grades, from kindergarten through 12.

After the ceremony, Paul Karasik, one of the school's eight founders, said: "Seven years ago when we were dreaming about the school, our dreams were great, large and wonderful. None have come close to the wonderful vision it has turned out to be."

The four pioneering graduates invested much of their time in the school, adding richness and guidance to their young classmates. Advisory groups walked up to the graduates, presenting them with significant gifts and exchanging embraces. Many in the audience wiped away tears as they witnessed the strong bond the graduates had with their fellow students.

One advisory group presented the graduates with gifts that represented the dreams of each honored student. Mr. Blackwell, who will pursue a career as a photographer, received a portable camera. Miss Maxner was given a small model of a sail boat, since the love of sailing she discovered while at the school has propelled her to work as part of a crew aboard a sailing vessel in California. Miss Whitcombe was given a statuette of an elephant; after she studies at Bennington College, she hopes to travel to Africa to study indigenous tribes. Miss Robinson-Lynch was given a tie-dye kit, a symbol of one of her class portfolios that commented on sweat shop labor and her desire to use her voice to effect social change in the world, a voice she will continue to hone next year when she attends Hampshire College.

Lynn Van Auken, president of the board of trustees, told the attentive audience how moved she was when speaking with the graduating class and how each one exemplifies the school's aim to create a lifelong learner out of each child.

Lori Shaller, a teacher at the school who has worked closely with the four students, said: "They taught me how to teach them and what our charter means. They are committed to democracy, community, learning and directing their own learning. They are all photographers, writers and artists with their own voice. They are special because of who they are as individuals."

Miss Robinson-Lynch told the students who remain behind: "Now it's time for you to be leaders of your own lives and the school."

The graduates, who have contributed so much heart and soul to the institution, presented a bell to the school, showing their support of the democratic process, which ensures every voice at the charter school is heard and respected equally. The bell, which was mounted inside the school building after graduation , will be rung for every meeting "in honor of democracy."

"This has been a big year for us. It is the end of stage one; this event is the curtain on it. A day like today makes us feel like all the hard work done was the right hard work," said Mr. Karasik.

The state has recertified the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School for another five years, allowing the school to grow in its strengths and to continue to provide valuable resources for Island children.

Mr. Moore sent the graduating class off into the world with great honor. "This school is your school. This school stands tall today due to your ideas, intellect and care. The public charter school is a special place because you studied, discussed and analyzed in these classrooms, and because your caring hearts have had an overwhelming influence on all of us. I thank you for sharing yourselves with us and helping us build and mold a school that lets young people grow, develop and learn in a healthy and caring environment. Your humility and thoughtfulness will always be a part of the rainbow which hovers above the school to guide all of us in our work and study."