A Special Spirit Wins This Class Highest Praise

By ALEXIS TONTI

They're the largest class ever to graduate from the regional high school. That's the first thing: 216 as compared with last year's 158.

The sheer size of the class has caused a few logistical issues along the way. Additional class sections were needed to accommodate demand. Parking became problematic, as the 160 student spaces at the high school were insufficient, forcing a bit of wrangling and an eventual spillover into the teachers' lot. But in the end the benefits outweighed the necessary adjustments. With size comes diversity, and members of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Class of 2002 displayed a range of talents and interests that shaped and changed the school during their four-year tenure.

That very diversity is what makes this group of seniors tough to pin down. There are, however, some observations that arise again and again, no matter whom you talk to: They're a selfless group with great community spirit, who've stepped up to fill and excel in key leadership positions.

"They've been a really wonderful, congenial class, with a positive attitude. And they've been this way all the way through," said principal Margaret (Peg) Regan. She pointed to the MCAS tests, but not as an example of their academic success (though their scores did lead to the school's being ranked among the 20 most improved schools in Massachusetts that year). What most impressed Mrs. Regan was the students' approach to the test, which they took in sophomore year during the grace period when MCAS was administered without current scoring requirements for graduation.

"They cracked the test, even though there were no stakes for them," Mrs. Regan said. "They didn't need to do well - and you know how it can be when a test doesn't count - but they went into it and took it seriously. They did it for the benefit of the high school rather than their own personal advancement."

The selflessness extends to other areas as well. In the wake of Sept. 11, the senior class passed around a collection jar and organized a sponsored fast to raise money for the victims' fund. "This class saw the world change," Mrs. Regan said, "and they had to look at history in a new way. They showed great patriotism and willingness to help."

"They're very compassionate," guidance counselor Mike McCarthy concurred. "They really seem to care about issues and wanting to make a difference."

That spirit of service trickles down to involvement in smaller groups, which for many were far more than resumé builders. Students joined and took charge, actively seeking to expand and improve the scope of club activities. Peer Leaders, for example, this year brought two new programs to the high school: Drawing the Shades, which raised awareness about sexual assault, and the Yellow Ribbon Program which addressed suicide prevention.

Another group that's been largely carried by seniors is SafeRides. They've benefited from it all the way through, their freshman year marking the program's first at the high school, and this year seniors account for more than a third of the drivers. "They've been giving up weekends of this year and last year for the benefit of their peers," Mrs. Regan said. "It's wonderful to see."

Several of the senior board members even traveled to Seattle to participate in the National Conference on Service-Learning. "They've been really committed to public service," said Pam Carelli, founder of SafeRides and chairman of the Parent Teacher Student Organization. "I couldn't even imagine how many hours they've all put in combined. And they don't do it for the recognition - it's what they like to do, and it happens to be a service.

"The seniors now have really led the way and set a good example for youth leadership," she added. "They've been involved in youth congress, Peer Leaders, the school committee. They've really honed their leadership skills, taken an interest in leadership, and they'll carry that with them on their next journey."

What also comes up time and again about the Class of 2002 is that they're particularly creative, be it in music, theatre or the visual arts. For the first time, the drama department had a senior at the helm, directing the spring production of a Tennessee Williams play. The Minnesingers last year traveled to Lithuania and this year completed the exchange, playing host to the Versme Choir. Spring semester saw the debut of the high school's first student-made DVD film, an adaptation of the Spanish play Blood Wedding for which seniors playing integral roles at every level.

They've taken that talent outside of the school as well. One student appeared at Boston Symphony Hall this fall, singing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Another senior received an award for his short film at this year's Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival.

Senior class president Elise Chapdelaine recalled this list of her peers' accomplishments with pride, then added: "We've had a lot of bands that have sprung up, and people have been really great about supporting them. They've performed at the Katharine Cornell Hall and the E&E Deli. There's always a good turnout." Seniors also took to the stage in many of the groups at the recent Battle of the Bands at the Hot Tin Roof.

Next year these students are spreading out more widely than in years past, said Mr. McCarthy. Some will be at work in Indiana; others will attend schools as far flung as Hawaii, California, Florida and Wyoming. But there's always a contingent that stays closer to home. "It's like a joke with the class, that the senior quote should be, ‘See you at UMass,' " said Laura Bennett, editor of the school newspaper (another measure of the class's success, with seven awards this year from the New England Scholastic Press Association).

Wherever they find themselves, it's clear the Class of 2002 will succeed at whatever they put their minds to: "They're a really great group of kids," said Mr. McCarthy. "They're going to go on to do some really great things."