Graduates Receive Generous Scholarships

By MANDY LOCKE

Christmas is coming early this year for 133 graduating seniors at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, as it will for 115 of the school's recent alumni. Gifts will pour in from 123 community groups playing Santa who will deliver checks of all sizes this Friday night - paid to the order of colleges, universities and training institutions across the nation.

About $650,000 will be divided to make continuing education a reality for 248 Island youths.

"The cost of education tacked on to the cost of living on Martha's Vineyard makes the burden of paying for an education unreal for some families," said high school guidance director Michael McCarthy, noting that tuition at Massachusetts state colleges has risen to $12,000 this year.

But with these scholarships, the community helps manufacture dreams of all shapes and sizes - offering scholarships for the potential chef, the aspiring nurse, the soon-to-be biologist and the hopeful performer.

The list of givers reads like an Island phone book: DAR, Dukes County Savings Bank, First Congregational Church, Holy Ghost Association, Agricultural Society, Horse Council, Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and the Scottish Society are just a handful of the 100-plus donors.

"They are helping keep kids' dreams alive," Mr. McCarthy said. "That's an unbelievable statement to make to kids."

And those statements just keep coming. Fifteen new scholarships arrived at the guidance office this year, a few in memory of the lives of Islanders including Edmond G. Coogan and Paul J. Nichols.

"Memorial scholarships help us remember the names of those who aren't here, and it helps those families to meet these new kids who are going out and starting their lives. They get that message," Mr. McCarthy said.

Some honor the careers of folks like Ruth Brightman Honick and Peter Boak. Still others boost a talent, like the Dionis Coffin Riggs Writing Award and the WIMP Big Brother/Big Sister scholarship. Two of the new additions - Martha's Vineyard Surfside Motel Scholarships and the Akerley's Catering Culinary Scholarship - aim to encourage a niche career pursuit.

"It's a way of saying our kids are important enough to go on and get more education," Mr. McCarthy said. "I know this doesn't happen anywhere else. It's unbelievable how much they are supported."

The program has grown so large that management of the endowment and setting up each scholarship is a year-round endeavor for guidance secretary Bonnie Jackson. But it's a duty that constantly inspires her.

"We're amazed all the time," Ms. Jackson said.

"Every day, Bonnie comes into my office and says ‘You won't believe what someone offered to give this year,'" Mr. McCarthy added.

Thankfully, the scholarship program has grown with the size of the class. Four years ago, only 132 students graduated from the high school, but the class of 2002 has more than half again that many, with 216 members.

Nearly three-fourths of the Class of 2002 will be furthering their education next year - a large percentage considering the high school's comprehensive education plan. Some vocational students earned enough training to pursue a career directly after June 16 graduation. Some of these students, too, will receive a monetary boost as they transition from school to trade.

As alumni of the high school who received scholarships as seniors, Ms. Jackson and Mr. McCarthy know how much the awards mean to Island families. And they see those same seeds of appreciation in recent alumni.

"Their words of thanks - I think that's some of what keeps it going," Ms. Jackson said. "The police department, the fire department, they do all sorts of things to raise money for these scholarships. I don't think they would put the time in if the students didn't appreciate it."

And that spirit of sacrifice even trickles into the graduating class. Three of the students that Mr. McCarthy feels confident would have earned some scholarship money didn't even apply, consciously leaving the available funds for their peers.

"Those kids didn't apply because they knew their families could afford their cost of education. It's a whole system of unselfishness," Mr. McCarthy said.

Much of this year's $650,000 is well distributed among the seniors and recent graduates.

"This year it's really spread out," Ms. Jackson said. "Some years one kid gets $16,000 and someone else gets none. It's always upsetting when someone doesn't get anything."

Most of the kids ranked in the top 20 will earn at least $6,000 in scholarships, and some significantly more.

The school and community do not simply cradle these Island teens through their first year of college or training. The guidance office acts as an informational clearing house for recent graduates seeking scholarship money beyond freshman year.

"At the end of it all, we're celebrating our community, we're celebrating them and we're celebrating the people who aren't with us this year," Mr. McCarthy said.