Pomp and Circumstance: Regional High School Seniors Ready for Commencement Day

By RACHEL KOVAC

The members of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Class of 2005 stand on common ground in the last few days before graduation. But as the seniors reach for their diplomas Sunday, they will be marking the moment when everything changes. Many will spend the next few years earning degrees from colleges across the country; others are immediately joining the work force, while still others are unsure what the future holds.

Commencement begins Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Tabernacle on the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs.

And tonight, more than $700,000 in scholarship money donated by Vineyard residents and organizations - the largest amount ever - will be handed out to the graduating students. Class Night begins at 7 p.m., also at the Tabernacle.

Photo

This week amid the preparations for graduation, students, teachers and other school leaders reflected on the events that shaped the 195 members of the Class of 2005. While they experienced their share of joys and accomplishments, their tenure at the high school was also marked by tragedy.

In May of 2004 the class mourned two of their own, Kevin H. Johnson 2nd and David D. Furino, who died in a high-speed car accident in Katama.

Mr. Johnson, who was 16 at the time of his death, was a cross-country runner and junior varsity basketball player who loved the summer and all things related to the beach. Mr. Furino, 17 at the time of his death, was an aspiring architect. An athlete outside of school, he was described as a snowboarder, a skim boarder, a fisherman and a surfer.

Both will be awarded posthumous diplomas Sunday.

The class also planted and dedicated two trees at the school in honor of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Furino.

"The experience made this a much closer class," said Michael McCarthy, head of the school guidance department. "As juniors they went through this experience and really pulled together."

Photo

"When it happened we were there for each other. We have a lot of respect for one another," graduating senior Kayla Whalen said.

The events of Sept. 11 - occurring just weeks into their freshman year of high school - also had a formative effect. It pushed these students from five different schools to support each other and try to make sense of what happened.

"It was hard for us to understand," Keidy Toomey said.

"Most of the people on the Island hadn't seen the Twin Towers," Ms. Whalen said. "We were just trying to figure it out."

Both tragedies shaped the students' attitudes.

"They have really rallied as a class and have become a memorable group. They have contributed so much service to the school - everything from reorganizing and fixing up our courtyard at the school," high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said.

For Julia Friedman, who is attending Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., next year, high school was about the academics. She plans to draw on all her experiences as she makes her way at a top tier institution in a big city. For an Island girl the southern city will be a big change, as will the demands of a school that prides itself on its academic success.

Photo

"I challenge myself to the extreme," Ms. Friedman said. "I will fare pretty well in the real world thanks to the teachers I've had here. It's all about your personal drive."

Jonathan Ryan is also moving to a city, albeit one closer to home. Mr. Ryan will attend Emerson University in Boston in the fall. But while Mr. Ryan is looking forward to college, right now he's concentrating on the immediate future. He will take center stage Sunday as the master of ceremonies.

"I think the most important thing about graduation is to remind the audience this is the student's graduation," Mr. Ryan said before graduation rehearsal on Thursday. "Everyone from the selectmen to the commission seem to speak and it takes away from the fact the class is graduating."

Mr. Ryan said this class is possibly the nicest group of people he knows and it has been a pleasure for him to be among them for four years.

After Sunday, the class will scatter in many different directions.

"It's a very competitive class," Mr. McCarthy said. "They did very well in admissions. They are going all over the country."

Photo

Students are going to colleges as different as Brown University, James Madison University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Others are attending specialized schools like Johnson and Wales University, the Savannah College of Art and Design and Paul Mitchell Hair School. One student will be joining AmeriCorps, another moving to Colorado to work at a ski slope, while still others are deferring higher education for a year and traveling.

"These kids are very active in athletics, music and all the arts," Mr. McCarthy said. "A lot of these kids are in the vocational program. They are spread very evenly across the school's programs and have been some real leaders out in the community."

The students did very well with scholarships as well, according to Mr. McCarthy. While many received need-based aid from schools, they also garnered quite a bit of merit-based money.

"These are people who have spent a lot of time and effort to raise money for you," Mr. McCarthy told the graduates Wednesday. "Some of these are memorial scholarships so be respectful."

Mrs. Regan said the scholarship and the support of the community is one of the reasons graduation is so special on the Island. She expects some 2,000 people to celebrate the seniors accomplishment on Sunday. And while the graduation will be a lot of pomp and circumstance, it will also be filled with tradition.

Photo

"These seniors have left a mark on the high school through academics and heartfelt connections to one another. We will remember the Class of 2005," Mrs. Regan said.