With the opening notes of Edward Elgar’s traditional processional music Pomp and Circumstance, two long columns of graduates made their way down the aisle of the Tabernacle Sunday afternoon. The audience turned and erupted in applause for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Class of 2013, 184 strong.
Students chatted excitedly as they took their seats, practicing the proper method for receiving diplomas (right hand to shake, left hand to take) and looking back at the rest of the audience, which spilled out of the open-air Tabernacle onto the lawn.
Then it was time for festivities to begin, and futures to get underway.
Master of ceremonies Madeline Webster welcomed the audience and, jokingly, “a few confused tourists wandering at the periphery of the Tabernacle,” before ceding the stage to her fellow class speakers.
Students waxed nostalgic with a mix of humor and solemnity about their high school experiences and the challenges that faced them as so many prepared to leave the Island.
“We know the phrases ‘it’s an uphill battle’ and ‘it’s all downhill from here,’” salutatorian Julia Cooper joked. “When it comes to high school, whatever side of the hill you’re on, you’re not having a very good time.”
Class essayist Fionnaula Howell addressed the theme of change, saying: “On the Island, we’re all big fish in a small pond. At college next year, I’m going to be a little fish in a very big pond.” She urged her fellow classmates to make the most of every opportunity given them. “Our lives are not the sum of our memories, but the person we become as a result of these experiences,” said Ms. Howell. “Enjoy the moment.”
Speaker Cape Cod Community College president John Cox began his remarks to the graduates by pausing to post a picture of the crowd to his Twitter account. Dr. Cox emphasized the speed with which our world has changed in the past few decades by comparing modern computer technology to the punch-card machines of his own high school days. He closed by echoing the advice of his late mentor: “As you travel through life, no matter your goal, keep your eye on the donut and never the hole.”
Valedictorian Jack Roberts reflected on the influence of the Island and its community, using the metaphor of waves on the ocean to describe the importance of the day. “The support shown by the Vineyard as a whole has been truly incredible,” he said.
“Surf’s up, fellow graduates!” said Mr. Roberts as he finished his address. “Let’s catch some waves!”
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James Weiss presented Mr. Roberts with the Superintendent’s Outstanding Student Award for his academic and athletic achievements. Mr. Roberts was the captain of three varsity teams this year, took five advanced placement courses and still managed to secure his place at the top of the class, he said.
Regional high school principal Dr. Stephen Nixon called upon Benjamin Bilzerian and Paige McLaughlin to receive Vineyarder awards, and presented Miss Cooper with the Principal’s Achievement Award.
In his tribute to the senior class, Dr. Nixon encouraged graduates to continue to do good work, even in the face of adversity. “Change the world, especially if others tell you that you cannot,” he said. He stressed the importance of interacting directly with the world, rather than taking it all in second-hand.
“Do not allow your contact to be the light of a screen in place of the light in someone’s eyes,” said Dr. Nixon, drawing applause from the crowd.
The Tabernacle erupted in cheers as each student was called onstage to receive his or her diploma. As the graduates walked across the stage, families and friends whistled and applauded for their favorites.
A shower of purple and white caps rained down and laughter and excitement hung in the air as the graduates embraced their families and each other, celebrating the beginning of their latest chapter.