Island Charter School Honors Six Seniors

By COOPER DAVIS

A Chinese proverb, a willow tree and a piece by Handel were all part of the festivities last Saturday as the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School community celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2005.

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"The achievements of these six students have expanded the imagination and creativity of this entire community," charter school director Robert Moore said in his opening remarks.

The ceremony was held in the West Tisbury schoolyard beneath a white tent festooned with multi-colored fabrics. Graduates Chris Conklin, James Evans, Wade Meacham, Milo Silva, Kate FitzGerald and Garrett Burt strode confidently to the stage amid cheers and applause from the more than 150 people in attendance. Susan and Steve McGhee played Jean Baptiste Loeillet's Allegro in the background.

The Class of 2005 is the charter school's largest graduating class since it was founded in 1996.

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"Our philosophy centers around the personalizing of learning for each student. Education is most meaningful when the student is invested in their studies by choice," continued Mr. Moore. He then spoke briefly about the individual interests and performance of each student, and thanked them for their contributions to the school.

The next speaker was Sam Berlow, president of the charter school board of trustees. Mr. Berlow began with a Chinese proverb. "To know the road ahead, ask those coming back," he said, acknowledging the alumni in attendance.

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The speech was followed by the presentation of gifts to the graduates - a charter school tradition. Each grade gives a gift, selected and often handmade by the students themselves. Most touching was the kindergarten students' gift to Garrett Burt: a mobile constructed of driftwood and wire depicting various forms of sea life; it was meant to illustrate the strong ties within the charter school community.

Scholarships were then handed out by Lynn Van Auken, representative from Options in Education, a group that promotes innovative educational programs on the Island.

The Cottagers Inc., the Oak Bluffs philanthropic organization, awarded Wade Meacham $1,300 toward his tuition at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. Kate FitzGerald received $2,000 from the Elmer Hobson DeLoura memorial scholarship program. And all the graduates were awarded $750 from Options in Education.

James Evans was the first of three student speakers to address the assembly.

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"In a strange trial by fire, in this community like none I've ever known, the beginning of my temperance has been defined," Mr. Evans said. He went on to read a poem he wrote, which left many visibly moved.

Mr. Evans was followed by Milo Silva, whose brief address evoked laughter. The text of Mr. Silva's speech can be found on the Editorial Page of today's Gazette.

Kate FitzGerald, in a white dress with flowered garland atop her head, took the opportunity to voice her concerns about the present state of the world.

"It disturbs me that there is so much silence from the international community when hundreds of thousands are suffering brutality and loss, such as what is happening now in the Darfur region of Sudan," she said. "I think the United States and other countries need to be more concerned about the world, not just their own backyards."

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Jonah Maidoff, charter school social studies teacher, also spoke, applauding the students for their strengths and ambition.

On behalf of all the graduates, Miss FitzGerald then presented a young willow tree as a gift to the school.

"We hope that this tree will grow as the school has grown in the past, and will continue to grow. We also wish to come back, many years from now, to see students sitting in the shade of a graceful weeping willow tree," Miss FitzGerald said.

"We believe that the trunk of the tree can be seen as symbolic of the structure . . . of the school, that the branches represent the teachers, and that the leaves represent the students, which will eventually fall off the tree into independence."

Mr. Moore and Mr. Berlow then presented diplomas. The applause of the audience grew as each graduate was announced, and eventually exploded into a standing ovation, with cheers and whistles.

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By the time the ceremony had come to its conclusion, the morning haze had been replaced by a clear, sunny sky. Tables laden with food awaited the jubilant crowd, which carried on as though it were a family reunion rather than a high school graduation.

Later, seated at a picnic table and surrounded by students of various ages, Mr. Moore explained, "This is really an exciting day. These kids have been working full tilt, finishing their projects up until just a few days ago."

He went on to emphasize the unique way in which the charter school is designed to work.

"What we do is we give these kids the model, we provide the framework. This allows the students to produce, to make their own connections and pursue their own interests in a way that suits them best," he said. "Each of these students is quite unique, and if you listen to them, and if you give them opportunities, that uniqueness comes out in a very wonderful way, a way that enriches the larger community."

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When asked how he planned to spend the remainder of his first day after high school, Mr. Silva said: "Well, I imagine I'll go to a party - and then I'm quite sure I'm going to sleep for some time."