Island Bids Farewell to Graduating Class of 2002

Commencement Exercises Pay Tribute to Largest Graduate Class in History

By ALEXIS TONTI

For four years they studied, turned in projects and papers, took too many tests to count. For two weeks they waited, finals over, state tournaments played out, summer jobs begun. For several days they practiced, the marching, the seating, the singing.

In the end it came down to this moment, Sunday afternoon at the Tabernacle, when the Class of 2002 was graduated from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

Despite the dictates of tradition, the seniors made this ceremony their own. They wore the tasseled caps and purple and white gowns - but also sunglasses and leis and, in one case, a pair of fuzzy green slippers. They performed original music and spotlighted their star vocalists to follow the standard Pomp and Circumstance. They batted beach balls back and forth even as their names were called and diplomas awarded.

Salutatorian Calixte Monast opened the day by reflecting on his move from Cuttyhunk to "the big city" of Martha's Vineyard: "Everything was different," he said of his move six years ago. "I couldn't walk to school any more. Cars and buses became a major part of our life. The West Tisbury School wasn't a one-room schoolhouse and there was homework and tests and grades and expectations. Too many changes. I missed my way of life . . . the paths and secret places I'd spend my childhood years discovering were far away, as were the people that I'd grown up knowing and trusting. I felt like a part of me had been left behind. A big part. Everything I took comfort in, everything that was familiar, was gone."

But with time came adjustment, new friends made, new secret spaces found. And the final realization: "I had a new Island now, not necessarily a new home but another one."

Using his experience as comparison, he encouraged his classmates as they face the changes ahead: "We have to leave the places we have explored and the secret spots we used to hide in. We have to say goodbye to a community that helped to raise us. It's time to start a new life. We will be emissaries to the world, the exciting and mysterious off-Island."

Following Mr. Monast came class essayist Jonas Budris, who spoke about the power of words. "Simple words, taken alone, can be dangerous," he said. "Yet words are precious, too." He urged his classmates to find time to say the important things to those who matter most: "Don't waste that chance," he said. "Words are free and unlimited, but time will run out."

He concluded: "Class of 2002, we have most of our lives left to name. What we say, how we listen, matters. Each name we give is a bell that cannot be unrung. Ring carefully."

Superintendent of schools Kriner Cash presented the Vineyarder Awards to graduates Heather Boyd and Michael Flynn. The awards, he said, reflected great personal growth during their high school years. Mr. Cash also gave Mr. Monast the Superintendent's Outstanding Student Award, calling him "a man of many talents and interests" who earned his place by "taking the most demanding courses the school offered."

Both the Principal's Leadership Award and Faculty Leadership Award went to Elise Chapdelaine for her "great leadership in the Class of 2002 and untiring service to the school and school committee."

After a quartet of seniors performed an a cappella piece of their own composition, student faculty council president Jacqueline Burgoyne stepped to the podium. She kept her speech light even as she addressed the meaning of life, pausing beforehand to put on her "special speech-giving slippers."

The meaning of life, incidentally, was not to be found in a bright orange envelope under a chair, though she had the whole class looking. As she explained, "To understand the meaning of life is to understand there is no one meaning of life. Every graduate sitting here today has a mind that is as flexible as Gumby and that can stretch like a piece of taffy. Sometimes life creates these wacky and superficial rules and codes that try to make our lives so black and white, but the beauty of it all is we were made to see in color. And let me tell you, there are some minds here today that can see in more colors than any Crayola crayon box could ever give you.

"The meaning of life - even simpler, the meaning of this moment, right now - isn't the caps and gowns. It's not the blue sashes or even the milk-white diplomas that will be tied in gold ribbon. This graduation is so much more about how we've learned together, partied together, lost and won together."

Miss Burgoyne personalized her speech, addressing certain classmates with the mysterious references that are the stuff of senior year memories. Then she asked her fellow students to stand: "The people on either side of you," she said, "are people who helped mold the figures you are today. Give them a hug or a handshake."

Valedictorian Jennifer Sepanara spoke about the meaning of graduation: "Sometimes we run so fast trying to get to the finish that we forget to live in the present. This must be what a graduation is. It's not about marching down the aisle in purple and white. It's not about the end, it's about the journey - a celebration of footprints.

"And what a journey it's been. High school has had a unique and different meaning for each of us - the scholar, the athlete, the artist, the writer, the actor, the musician - each leaving behind different tracks. And each of us has finished as a different person than we were when we began."

She continued: "Someday even our footprints will fade. Our records will be broken; our faces forgotten. Yet long after the wind and the waves have washed our footprints from the shores, a small part of the Island and MVRHS will remain in each of us. Every one of us contains a little bit of everyone else in our personality - whether it be a friend's laugh or a neighbor's refrain. And, as much as we may deny it, we can never really leave MVRHS. It is an experience that is an inextricable part of us."

In her tribute to the senior class, principal Margaret (Peg) Regan began: "A historian friend of mine once observed that the events that occur in your 18th year influence the whole of your life. For me, it was 1968, the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, the year that Bobby Kennedy was shot and the year of the My Lai massacre.

"You, the Class of 2002, have also witnessed extraordinary world changes in your 18th year. The events of Sept. 11 - something we all bore witness to together in school - has changed the face of the future of our country, but even more specifically it has changed you. How this event will affect your decisions about colleges, careers, living in distant places is not yet apparent. But, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that this precious human life you have been given has been enriched by all the suffering - and the joy - you have experienced in your senior year.

"Such is the preciousness of your life that it has been given to you not merely to survive the days or the weeks, but rather to fulfill - fulfill whatever destiny the world gives you. Those of you who will enrich our world with your art and your music, those who will perform on athletic fields of the future, those who will raise beautiful children and send them to MVRHS, Class of 2025, those of you who simply live to serve others - all of you will birth the new world full of promise and daring."

Ms. Regan concluded with the advice: "If you have talent, develop it. If you have compassion, express it. If you have wealth, share it. And in the memory of all those Americans who bravely gave up their lives in the events of Sept. 11, devote your lives to benefit one another."