Charter School Graduates Two in 2002: Class Praised for Courage, Fortitude

By ALEXIS TONTI

At a different kind of graduation this weekend, there was no Pomp and Circumstance, no caps and gowns, no valedictorian and salutatorian. In a class of two, such distinctions are unnecessary.

Instead, the laurel-crowned graduates of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School opted for a graduation march to John Lennon's Instant Karma. Not that anyone heard more than the opening lyrics. When the graduates appeared, they found themselves marching to the cheers of the more than 100 people in attendance. In a class of two, everyone knows you.

Seniors Kelly Brown and Corinna McCurdy gracefully accepted their reception. They sat together facing the audience, smiling, listening, at times laughing, unsure how to react to so much attention. In a class of two, there is no blending into the crowd.

But this, ultimately, was a good thing. For the members of the second graduating class of the charter school, the day was a celebration of their achievements. Speakers praised the girls for work inside and outside the classroom, and for their role in shaping the school itself, now completing its sixth year.

Teacher Lori Shaller spoke most particularly to their successes in her presentation of the class awards. "In their schooling," she said, "they found a learning community of caring and passion for social and political welfare and change. Both of these beautiful souls have spent six years together looking outside and within themselves for the fortitude and courage they will both expand and strengthen in their work as college students."

Ms. Shaller pointed to Miss Brown's commitment to social action and her role in founding the school's chapter of Amnesty International. She also highlighted Miss Brown's human rights portfolio, a comprehensive project for which she wrote historical essays, letters for Amnesty and an original Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities, addressing how human beings should treat each other. She also praised Miss Brown's juried art exhibition, which included photography and works in oil, acrylic and charcoal, all on the theme of balance.

Of Miss McCurdy, Ms. Shaller praised her education portfolio as her "magnum opus." For the project, Miss McCurdy interviewed educators, students and parents about progressive education and reflected upon her own experience, concluding that self-direction is essential to a healthy education. Ms. Shaller also spoke of Miss McCurdy's Italian semester abroad, and - perhaps most remarkable - her solo flight to New Bedford and back.

In his opening remarks, principal Robert Moore had praised the girls for their intellect, integrity and focus on community. That community spirit evidenced itself even during the ceremony, in the presentation of gifts to the graduates. Rather than accepting material items, the girls had asked that money instead be put toward causes they believed in.

And so, as each class from kindergarten through the high school presented their gifts, they shared their experiences in fundraising and named the charities to which they donated their efforts. The younger grades put money toward the Heifer Fund, and the high school raised $1,030 for Amnesty International. As one teacher said to the graduates, "You've showed them that a gift doesn't have to look like a skateboard. Thank you for teaching them that lesson, for giving them the experience of thinking globally and acting locally."

Miss Brown and Miss McCurdy spoke as well, trading off in a shared series of thank yous to teachers, advisors, families and friends. And then Jean Lythcott, Ph.D., one of the school's founders and now an associate professor at Stanford University, took the podium for her commencement address.

"I don't know whether to burst into song or cry," she began. "When I asked the girls what I should talk about, they said, ‘We just want you to be inspirational,' and yet" - she gestured to the girls - "there's inspiration enough right here." In her remarks, she reminded the graduates that they are the architects of their own life, and that even as they plan for the future, it is their responsibility to make life important right now, today. She also cautioned them against being too serious - that sometimes it's just as important to be able to laugh at yourself - and concluded: "Whatever you do, don't forget to look for the good, especially when it's hard to find."

Scholarships and diplomas were then awarded, and at the ceremony's conclusion, family and friends stayed for a luncheon.

Next year, Miss McCurdy will attend Boston University, where she hopes to study international relations and philosophy - and maybe journalism and photojournalism. "I'm in the Professors' Program," she explained, "which lets you design your own major."

Miss Brown also hopes to be able to create her own major - she cites interests in psychology, linguistics and international relations - though she'll apply for the requisite program only after she's begun at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Both girls talked about their pride in the school's continuing success, skirting the issue of their own accomplishments. And while both girls have that touch of nostalgia, they're mostly excited about what lies ahead: "I don't really get sad about these things," Miss McCurdy said. "I know I'm going to see everyone again. Life always changes. It's all about continuing forward."