With a snip of scissors a red ribbon across the stairs to the Jordan Science Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School fluttered apart Saturday and two classroom labs were ready to welcome students.

On Tuesday morning charter school students will begin the school year with a state of the art science center, a gift five years in the making from longtime Edgartown summer resident Robert Day.

Vernon Jordan and Paul Karasik. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Day has donated a total of $500,000 to the school, including $400,000 for the science center. That gift includes an initial donation of $200,000 and additional pledge of $200,000. Another $100,000 will go to the general support of the school.

The gifts comes through the W.M. Keck Foundation, where Mr. Day is chief executive officer. He donated in honor of his close friend Vernon Jordan, a Civil Rights activist, lawyer, Democratic adviser and longtime Island summer visitor.

Their friendship stretches back about 35 years and across political parties.

“I thought it would be nice to name it after Vernon, who has contributed so much to everybody in his life,” Mr. Day said Saturday. “I’m glad to be involved in Martha’s Vineyard and I love Vernon, so this all works out perfectly. I’m a happy camper.”

Robert Day and Vernon Jordan have been friends for about 35 years. — Jeanna Shepard

On Sunday Mr. Jordan recalled when he was in school in Atlanta, Ga. His segregated high school had one Bunsen burner in the chemistry lab, he said. One dollar was budgeted for each black student and $4 for each white student. Atlanta didn’t even have a high school for black children until 1926.

“This, today, is a long way from then and there,” Mr. Jordan said. “As people were talking, I kept thinking about that.”

His science teachers in high school and college would be stunned by the science center, he said.

“I’m 81 years old and I have 80 honorary degrees from some of the best schools in this country, but this [science center] named for me thanks to my friend Robert Day means as much to me as any one of those honorary degrees, or all of them combined,” he said. “It means that much to me.”

Future scientist checks out the new Jordan Science Center. — Jeanna Shepard

He thanked Mr. Day for honoring him.

“I’m honored that he chose me, his buddy,” he said.

Charter school director Robert Moore said he hopes the students will learn from Mr. Jordan and his career.

“We want our students to know your story, so they will be inspired to be change agents in their lives,” he said.

Charter school senior Isabella Quinones-Morais thanked Mr. Day and Mr. Jordan. She said her love of science never wavered at the charter school, even within the constraints of previously outdated equipment.

“Although I will only use the new labs for one more year, I’m excited to think of all the amazing developments I’m sure to hear about when I come back to visit,” she said. “As a charter school graduate we always want to leave a place better than when we found it.”

Robert Day and Steve Ewing. — Jeanna Shepard

Steve Ewing, Edgartown poet laureate and husband of school founding member Claudia Ewing, read a poem he penned for the occasion titled Make it Plain after a book by Mr. Jordan.

Walking into the new wing, Mr. Moore remembered how 18 years ago the charter school was just a main hall with a few trailers attached.

“Now, with the new addition, we have a serious campus,” he said.

Rebecca Connor, the ninth and tenth grade science teacher, stood in the new wing with Mr. Day.

“This is my classroom, thanks to you,” she said.