For Island Graduates, The Time of Their Lives

Not an Empty Seat at the Tabernacle; Sun Breaks Out

By KATE STAMELL

Proud families and friends filled the Tabernacle Sunday afternoon to honor and support the accomplishments of the Class of 2003 at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

"This was one of the most beautiful graduations," said principal Margaret (Peg) Regan. "It's really a community graduation, an outpouring of the community. Kids down the street showed up without even knowing a particular graduate. It's intimate."

Aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends traveled from Woods Hole, New York, Texas, California and France to be in Oak Bluffs for the graduation.

Four graduates, Greg Bennett, Mac Schilcher, and Nicholi Sullo, stood outside the Tabernacle entrance, gowns unzipped and roses in hand. The roses were for their mothers. Mac Schilcher is going to Wagner College in New York to play football. He's working for the summer, but has to be at college by August 10 to start the preseason.

The girls wore white caps and gowns and the boys purple, the school colors. Some girls wore colorful leis around their necks. Blue and white collars denoted honors and distinctions.

Sophia Abrams, wearing the blue collar of distinction, said she was excited to be graduating. Sophia snowboards and will attend the University of Vermont next year. "I've got to go," she said as a teacher swooped in - Sophia was the first in line to graduate.

Richard Steves' two granddaughters were graduated Sunday: Jennifer Jordan and Stephanie Thibert. Mr. Steves lives in Edgartown and owned the Menemsha Inn for 20 years. Stephanie will attend college in Massachusetts and Jennifer is working on-Island this summer as an office manager for a small firm before heading to Florida State. Jennifer's brothers, who are eight and nine, sat patiently waiting for the parties afterwards.

The Tabernacle was surrounded by a tight circle of standing friends and relatives. There was not a single seat left beneath the colorful stained-glass windows as the traditional Pomp and Circumstance began the procession of purple and white.

The Master of Ceremonies, Rodrigo Santos, welcomed the Class of 2003. "Life is extremely short," he told his classmates. Watching, Mr. Steves shook his head. "These kids don't understand how fast it goes."

A champagne cork flew into the air from somewhere in the graduates' seating area, a sign of early celebration.

Emma Gorenberg, the salutatorian, challenged the traditional mindset of the high school student: just make it through homework, tests and the end of the school day to reach the weekend, vacation and, finally, graduation.

"Let us strive to not live towards endpoints," she said. "We are given the gift of choice, now, to go into the world as adults and live our lives. Let us choose our path so that we may enjoy life for what it is today, not what it will be tomorrow."

She concluded, "William Faulkner said: ‘Time is dead as long as it is being ticked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.' Class of 2003, we are here. The clock has stopped."

As the sun emerged in mid-ceremony, jackets were shed in the audience.

Class essayist Kaila Binney spoke of success and newfound independence. She cracked inside jokes about faculty members, their quirky habits and endearing moments.

Chelsea Boyd and Jared Stobie received the Vineyarder Awards from Kriner Cash, superintendent of the Martha's Vineyard school district. Each student received $1,000. The Vineyarder Award is given to "those who have come the farthest in their personal and academic achievements."

Chelsea Boyd, said Mr. Cash, is "a marvelously resilient young lady who has overcome many barriers. She is a people person, and her smile lights up any room she walks into.

Jared Stobie is a sports star from punting on the football team for the past two years to golf, track, and volunteering as a hockey official. He focused on his schoolwork and excelled in his classes. "He is highly motivated," said Mr. Cash.

"Everyone likes Jared, I understand," noted the superintendent. "His smile is contagious."

The Superintendent's Outstanding Student Award went to the valedictorian, Nicholas Turner. "He is the ultimate leader on the field," Dr. Cash said. "In short, he is a class act." Not only does Mr. Turner play sports, but he is also is artistically talented. He surfs, has been active in conservation work and served as the National Honors Society secretary.

"Nick is the complete package," concluded Mr. Cash.

The chorus, a mixture of members of the graduating class and other grades, performed Home and the Heartland. Phillip Jordan, an eight-year-old whose sister was graduating, jumps up with his video camera to film his sister's singing.

Amy Baynes, class president, received the Principal's Leadership Award and Faculty Leadership Award from Mrs. Regan.

Olivia Lew, Student Faculty Council president, spoke of time and meaningful moments as her family and friends watched - some of them had come from as far away as France.

"It's about time," Olivia Lew said - "4,680 hours, that's 280,000 minutes, which is 16,848,000 seconds. This is also how much time the class of 2003 has spent under the same roof throughout the past four years."

She quoted John Lennon and Margaret Storm Jameson as she shared high school moments both intimidating and funny.

"I wanted to say something meaningful today," Miss Lew said. "What is the meaning of this moment? I don't think today is an end to the beginning or a beginning to the end or whatever people may say in graduation speeches. I think of this day as more of a checkpoint."

"Our time does not stop here," she concluded. "Each of us has made it, and that is what we are celebrating today. Congratulations, Class of 2003. You deserve it. Enjoy."

Superintendent Cash introduced the final speaker of graduation, valedictorian Nicholas Turner.

Mr. Turner began by addressing the community: "We have come together to celebrate the accomplishments of the individuals you will see cross this stage. Our accomplishments would not have been as great without the love, care and help of our family, friends, teachers and each other."

Mr. Turner spoke of knowledge and shared a quote he'd stumbled upon, "This is what we know. Imagine what we don't." High school teaches traditional subjects, he said, adding, "But is this what we really know as Island kids?

"If there is one thing I do know after living on the Vineyard, it is the beach. I know the feeling of sand in my hair and between my toes. I know the different scents and tastes of the ocean all 12 months of the year. I have felt the awesome power of hurricane swells and seen the beauty of blitzing bluefish. This is what I know.

"I know the love of family, friends, and that of an entire Island community. I have felt the warmth a local Island smile has to offer. I know the dedication of teachers both in and out of school, whose sole desire is to help and inspire others. I have been part of a community that comes together in times of joy and in times of sorrow. I know how great it is to feel safe and comfortable wherever I am. This is what I know."

Mrs. Regan gave her own tribute to the senior class. She spoke of beginnings and of seeing things in a new way. "A beginner," she said, "is accepting life as it is given to you.

"I hope that you will always have beginner's luck."

The crowd stirred as the graduates stood and began their procession across the stage, and applause echoed from the Tabernacle roof as each name was called.

Proud parents lined the stage, waiting to be the first to congratulate their graduates.

The highlight of the presentation of diplomas was the graduation of Lesliann Panek, who succeeded in completing four years of high school even though challenged by cerebral palsy and autism. Lesliann was helped across the stage by her father as she received a standing ovation.

The Class of 2003 moved their tassels from left to right to symbolize their graduation, and then the purple and white caps flew high up into the Tabernacle.

The new graduates filed out of the Tabernacle to the popular song, Virtual Insanity, by Jamiroquai.

Parents, relatives and friends rushed out of the Tabernacle, cameras in hand, in search of the new graduates. Graduates meandered through the crowd, exchanging thanks and congratulations.

Barbara Murphy, a Spanish teacher who is retiring with the Class of 2003, looked for students in the crowd. "I really do feel like a graduate," she said. "I was a member of the Class of 1964. I had a lot of these kids' parents as my students."

Marie Villard, a junior, played the flute in the orchestra on this commencement day. She won't play next year, when she will be among the graduates herself. Marie said she planned to attend post-graduation parties later on Sunday. "First there are nice and family-oriented parties, and then there are ones where everyone gets smashed," she said.

"But I've got homework and then need to go to bed. Unlike the graduates, I've got school tomorrow."