By JOSHUA SABATINI
From outside the Tabernacle Sunday at half past one o'clock, the graduates of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Class of 2001 began their march down the center aisle as the band struck up the traditional processional music, Pomp and Circumstance.
A moment before, the graduates were milling around the Camp Ground beneath a bright June sun, faces beaming in the glories of this day. The girls, dressed in white caps and gowns, the boys, in purple, walked around hugging one another, shaking and slapping hands, taking photos with family members and friends, reveling in these last minutes as high school students.
After the candidates took their seats, school principal Peg Regan announced the Class of 2001, and applause and shouts from the more than 2,000 in attendance filled and echoed beneath the Tabernacle dome.
Michelle McCormack came to the front of the stage and, standing above a row of flower arrangements, delivered her salutatory speech. "The air of being seniors brought us together and tore down the social boundaries between us. This year I have met my classmates. Not just knowing their face to their name, but actually getting to know them. These people are my new, amazing friends," said Miss McCormack, illustrating what faculty and students have come to understand about these 158 students - that they have bonded together and celebrated their diversity.
"Erich Fromm once said, 'Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.' This is our task. We have begun it here on Martha's Vineyard, at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, and we will continue to pursue it throughout the remainder of our lives," Miss McCormack concluded .
Class essayist Travis Gramkowski took up the theme of pursuit as he discussed his journey on a hiking trail up Mount Fuji last July. "To me, climbing Mount Fuji is a microcosm of our lives. There are many paths up the mountain, as there are many paths through life. The climb to the top is longer and more tiring than returning to the bottom. Unfortunately, there are people who do not make it to the top. Some grow tired and return, some can't breathe in the thin atmosphere and have to stop, but most people get there, even then staying on top is both difficult and expensive."
"We have completed another leg in our journey, but this isn't the end, not by a long shot. This is another beginning. Here we will choose which path to take and to which summit. With a little faith in yourself, no summit is unreachable."
Superintendent of schools Dr. Kriner Cash handed out several awards to students who had the confidence to reach a summit while at the high school. Two $1,000 Vineyarder awards for personal achievement went to Thomas John Lyon, Jr. and Elizangela Rodrigues. Miss Rodrigues, a hearing-impaired student, came from Brazil about 10 years ago. "When I came to the Island I was 18 years old. I didn't know how to read, write or communicate. My mother wanted me to learn so I could have a good life. I came to Martha's Vineyard Regional High School; this changed my life," Miss Rodrigues said, using sign language that was translated for the audience.
Chris McCann and Maura Dickson received a $250 award for academic improvement, presented in memory of Ryan Mone. The $1,000 Superintendent's Outstanding Student Award was given to Alicia Agnoli. William Evans, Matthew Ell and Travis Gramkowski were recognized as National Merit Scholars by Mrs. Regan, who also presented a $1,000 Principal Leadership Award to Maria Gaskill for her involvement on all the governance committees in the school.
Class president, Alexandra Loud began to open the door to the essence of her class by addressing many of the graduates in a personal way and emphasizing how they have dealt with several tragic deaths. "I struggle with how to describe our class to the people who will never be a part of it. We as a whole have seen sorrow over and over again. The jagged stone of grief was already placed in our hearts. Our hearts become raw from the sharp edges of the stones, but with time those stones become smooth with the waves of grief and happiness, like pebbles on the shore."
"Those waves of emotion are part of how our class is special. Any one person would have drowned in the waves, but not us. The best way to survive violent seas is to huddle together and hold on. Our ability to unify and show compassion has been our life ring. Our ability to love and care for each other proves again and again that we are a remarkable bunch."
Valedictorian Alicia Agnoli emphasized the important part every individual plays. "The chaos theory," she told an attentive audience, "hypothesizes that even the most minuscule act can affect the entire natural world. The example is the small butterfly. A flutter of the butterfly's wings, in theory, has far reaching and substantial effects, perhaps on the climate of another continent. This theory, you see, applies not only to our class in name, but more importantly in principle: Each and every one of us has an amazing potential to affect the world around us."
"We have so many unique things to give to our shared world, for each of you is an individual, and each of you is a gift."
Excitement grew inside the Tabernacle as student after student walked up onto stage, received their diploma, and walked off a new graduate. When it was all over, the purple and white caps were thrown up with a happy shout, filling the air.
Graduates poured out into the Camp Ground, embraced their family members, and stood conversing with one another as the afternoon hours drifted slowly away, marking the end of the 2001 school year and the beginning of so many dreams.