After over a week of cool temperatures, rain and fog, the clouds parted on Sunday morning just in time for the 47th annual commencement of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Before the ceremony even began, Tyler Meyst was beaming.
"I am excited to get out of high school and move on to bigger things," the graduate said as his mother hung a necklace around his neck. "There is one in front and one in back," Mr. Meyst said of the pendants hanging from the necklace. His mother had given similar ones to his siblings upon their graduation. "As I move forward there will be someone watching my front and my back," he said.
As parents and family members, friends and alumni, police officers and the occasional tourist gathered to watch, the 204 graduates of the class of 2006 lined up outside the Tabernacle. The young women filed to one side, wearing white caps and gowns. The young men, donning purple, went to the other. Teachers and staff huddled in the middle.
Laura Gliga, head of the high school special education department, looked on smiling. "I am so proud of them," she said of the 40 or so special education students who graduated. "No one appreciates how hard they have to work to be here today."
Assistant superintendent Margaret Harris shared the pride. "Today is a great day to celebrate all that they have done," she said. "There is such a community feeling."
As the band warmed up, parents ran around snapping pictures, graduates posed with their classmates and friends clutched bouquets to give after the ceremony. Marie Baldwin of Vineyard Haven stood anxiously by the side of the Tabernacle, camera in hand, waiting for her son, Joseph, to start down the processional.
Joseph is the youngest of her seven children and the last to graduate from the high school. "This morning he told me he wanted to go get flowers for the parents of his two best friends," she said. "Then he came out with four bouquets - one for his grandmother and one for me. I didn't know he had bought me flowers until he turned around." The family, including each of Joseph's six siblings, planned to celebrate later with a barbecue.
At exactly 1:30 p.m. the beginning strains of Pomp and Circumstance rang out through the old Tabernacle and around the Camp Ground. The two lines of students began moving forward. Some smiled, others tugged nervously at their tassels, and quite a few greeted onlookers with high fives and handshakes. As the two lines converged, the assembly beneath the Tabernacle rose to its feet in wild applause.
Tony Cortez, the master of ceremonies, welcomed the graduates and their guests. He spoke about the Island, a place he moved to only three years ago from New York city, with fondness. "I had the best time of my life on the Vineyard," he said. "Thirty to forty years from now, I'll remember standing in front of you guys today. No one can take that away from me because we are the class of 2006," he yelled out over the cheers of the crowd. He then invited the gathering to participate in the pledge of allegiance.
Meghan Brielle Leonard, the class salutatorian, admitted her discomfort with public speaking and urged her classmates to break out of their comfort zones and go forth boldly. "The labels that have categorized us for the last four years, and have been the walls of our comfort zones, will become memories of great high school days and memories of old accomplishments that helped us reach this next transition," she said. At the end of her speech, Ms. Leonard invited her classmates to look under their chairs. Before commencement, she had placed gold coins under each one. From the podium, Ms. Leonard asked her classmates to keep the coins to remember this day.
Class essayist Abbey Stone spoke warmly about her high school experience. "In retrospect, high school has given me confidence, perspective and a seemingly endless list of possibilities," she said. "I have received a never-ending supply of support and encouragement; there has always been someone there to guide me. However, I know that my next step is one that I have to take for myself."
High school principal Margaret Regan presented the Vineyard awards. "There are so many people that deserve this award," she began. "Such as Anthony Sullo, for bringing a beach ball here today." Only two students received one. The first went to Alanna Echlin, who acted, wrote for the school newspaper, volunteered at the MSPCA, mentored freshmen and cleaned up Island beaches. She is headed to Simmons College in Boston. The second award went to Tony Cortez. During his three years at the high school, Mr. Cortez played on the football and baseball teams, starred as Sonny in the school musical of Grease and sat on the cultural council.
Superintendent James Weiss took the podium after Ms. Regan to present the superintendent's outstanding student award, which this year went to Meredith Curtis. Ms. Curtis was seventh in her class, was a member of the National Honor Society, founded the high school debate club, and was class secretary for three years. Mr. Weiss then addressed the graduates. "Choose adventure or choose security or choose anything in between," he urged them. "You are the only one who can make those choices."
Mrs. Harris joined him in honoring retiring staff members Lynn Ditchfield, Elizabeth MacLean, Joan Desautell, Glen Field and Margaret Serpa. "They will be sorely missed," Dr. Harris said, "and we want to wish them well."
The mixed chorus sang two songs: For Good, by Stephen Schwartz featuring solos by Elizabeth Desrosiers and Shannon Lobdell, and Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and deKlerk by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory.
Nicole Perry, fourth in her class, read an entry from her diary the day before she had enrolled at the high school. "I hope that besides making me look like a complete idiot," she said after reading aloud, "hearing that reminded you of how excited you were before high school, how excited you are now, before college, and how enthusiastic I hope you are for all changes throughout your life."
Mrs. Regan's principal's leadership award went to student council president Duncan Pickard. Mr. Pickard spoke with pride about the diversity of his class - with students hailing from Brazil, Argentina, Viet Nam, Liberia, El Salvador, Uruguay, Korea, Sweden, Columbia, China and Mexico, among others - and the racial challenges that they faced. "Even when I remember the cosmopolitanism of this class, I will remember its unity," he said.
Class valedictorian Simone McCarthy was the last student to speak. Ms. McCarthy spoke of the importance of family, friends and teachers. She spoke of learning from the past and welcoming the future. Finally, she spoke of the uniqueness of her classmates. "This graduation should be a celebration of every experience that has brought each individual in the class of 2006 to this stage," she said. "Today every piece of our lives is being held up and applauded. Because every experience has brought us here and because everyone who will walk across the stage has given so much and has so much more to offer to the people around them."
In the end Mrs. Regan distributed diplomas. After the last member of the class of 2006 walked across the stage, the inside of the Tabernacle roared with applause and the graduates tossed their purple and white caps in the air. Then, to the sounds of their class song, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals, they marched out of the Tabernacle to meet parents, friends and teachers.
Duncan Schilcher, a graduate of the class of 2001, was one such onlooker. "Even though I graduated five years ago, I still come to graduation every year to support the younger generations," he said.
Graduate Matt Rivers radiated happiness as he stood in his purple gown surrounded by friends and family. "This is awesome, it's amazing," he said. Asked how he planned to celebrate, Mr. Rivers said he was going to a graduation party with his best friends. As he said this, one of them walked past. "Hey boy," Mr. Rivers yelled out as he and his friend roped each other in for a huge bear hug.