Meet the Valedictorian

By MANDY LOCKE

Alicia Agnoli would rather talk about the playing court than the classroom.

This soon-to-be high school graduate can discuss both with the mastery that only a four-year varsity athlete and valedictorian can. Her fans have watched her kick soccer balls, dribble basketballs and serve tennis balls, but this weekend, all eyes will follow Alicia to center stage as she delivers her valedictory address.

"I've had the privilege of being in a class of regional high school greats," she says with a serious face, once again deflecting the attention from herself.

It's not that Alicia is embarrassed about her stellar academic performance, she simply doesn't want that to be her key signifier.

"I certainly would not define myself as an intellectual. In fact, I've never committed myself to one defining characteristic," she says.

But, of course, Alicia cannot escape the reputation that her natural intelligence and diligence earned her in high school.

"I get kidded all the time. If I make a grammatical slip, they make all sorts of jokes like 'Come on, Alicia, you're our valedictorian,'" she says with a laugh.

She admits it's hard to escape her academic reputation when she pulls out her books during bus rides to away games. But with the expectations of her advanced classes, Alicia knew she needed to use every available second.

"When you get home from an away game at 9:30 and you still have three hours of homework waiting, it's tough," she says with the relief that she's now finished with exams.

Like any high-achieving student, she confesses that she pushed herself to the limit during the last four years.

"I take on a lot of pressure," she admits, adding that it all derives from her.

When asked if she now knows her boundaries, she laughs and turns her head to see if her mom has stepped in from the kitchen to listen.

"Sometimes I feel that I know my limits, but I really don't. I'm always testing them - pushing the limits," she says.

Alicia will have plenty of opportunities to test her boundaries next year as she joins the best of the best at one of the nation's Ivies. Princeton captured Alicia's loyalty after she learned of the reputation of the university's science program. She applied early decision, and the school had the wisdom to see Alicia's promise.

While she'll be wearing no official Tiger jersey, she promises to sneak in some playing time as her academic load allows.

"I want to take on as much as I can," she says with a smile that lets everyone know that she will do just that.

Her trek to New Jersey this fall will be done with a few backward glances. Of course, she'll miss her family and friends, but she'll also long for the commodities that only Martha's Vineyard can offer.

"I'll miss the beach, the sand, the access. Knowing that I can hop on my bike and ride to the beach," she whispers, looking down and moving her feet lightly against the floor as if it's sand.

But one cannot mistake Alicia's nostalgia for a lack of preparedness. Responding to parental fears that Vineyard youth cannot handle the transition into a world beyond the island's shores, she quickly responds.

"And all the kids are saying, 'I can't wait to get off,' " she admits. "We do have an isolated experience, but most of us are ready to jump out there. I think it's important to give it a shot."

Whether or not Alicia will make a home on the Island after she acquires the title of doctor, she'll always be thankful for the support the she received here.

"I can't walk down the hallway with a frown. People will stop and ask me how I'm doing," she says. One of the people she frequently encountered in the halls of the regional high school was her father, Jeff, a guidance counselor at the school.

"I loved having him there. There was no need to be embarrassed, because all the kids like him," she adds.

With graduation drawing closer and closer, it's hard for Alicia to understand that her time is finally here. She remembers just a few short years ago reading about the future plans of the top graduating seniors in the newspaper. She humbly denies that any younger students could be looking up to her the same way.

As Alicia stands before her graduating peers, Sunday afternoon at the Tabernacle in the Camp Ground, she'll take one final bow. But she'd rather not be frozen in time as the high school valedictorian. When her name echoes through the hallway of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in the years to come, she hopes people remember more about her personality than her accomplishments.

"I want to be remembered as a happy, pleasant person. They don't need to remember that I got good grades or that I played sports. Just that 'she's allright,' " Alicia says with an unforgettable smile.