They have won prestigious awards in art, journalism and sports and have played a stronger role in student government than any class before them, taking the first strides against racial tension in the school.
When the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School class of 2006 graduates on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. under the shelter of the Tabernacle on the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs, 204 young men and women will leave their school a better place than when they first arrived.
Graduation speakers will include valedictorian Simone McCarthy, salutatorian Meghan Brielle Leonard, class essayist Abby Stone and student faculty council president Duncan Pickard. Master of ceremonies will be Tony Cortez.
"The way I'll remember them are the pioneers of student involvement in the administration of the high school," principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said about the class. "They had to come to grips with racial tensions and deal with those issues."
Many of this year's seniors participated in a leadership class and in student congress, a large group of representatives - two from each homeroom - that meet monthly with the student council to speak out on behalf of their peers. The student congress was formed when the graduating class was in its sophomore year.
Last spring, racial tension at the high school - manifested in fights, name calling and anti-Brazilian graffiti - led students and administrators to organize a small race culture retreat in March 2005. In November about 60 students participated in a two-day retreat. On their return, they formed the cultural council, led by seniors and aimed at improving many aspects of school culture. Their first task was to mitigate bullying and discrimination.
Director of guidance Michael McCarthy said that although there is still racial tension at the high school, the council has made progress.
"They started us on the path," Mr. McCarthy said. "It heightened [students'] awareness to make the school more open and comfortable for people coming in from different cultures, attitudes and beliefs."
Seniors also spearheaded the initiative to change class ranking to a percentile system that would reduce unhealthy competition between students and give colleges a better picture of academic performance in relation to their peers. Administrators are considering the change for this fall's incoming freshmen.
Class Night takes place in the Tabernacle tonight at 7 p.m. Graduating seniors will receive 343 individual scholarships - including 10 new scholarships - totalling an unprecedented $500,000. This is $100,000 more than last year's record amount. An additional $300,000 will be awarded in scholarship money for 178 Island graduates who are in college, making the grand total of scholarships over $800,000.
"I've never been in a community that's so generous," Mr. McCarthy said. "I'm amazed by it every year. They don't just make a commitment for one year, they make a commitment for all four years."
After graduation, many students will go on to four and two-year colleges including culinary schools, art schools, drama schools and technical schools. Some will play college sports. Others will go directly into the work force - many having participated in work study programs during high school. At least two students are looking at the military, and a handful are taking a gap year, volunteering in other parts of the world.
In addition to being a well-rounded group with strengths in academics, the arts and athletics, the class of 2006 will be remembered for its good natured students and strong friendships.
"I was thinking all about our class since kindergarten, because I've been with a lot of those kids since then," senior class president Katherine Wilson said. "I remember that since then we were called the dream class. We'd move up to another grade and everyone would be so excited and say they heard good things about us."
At the end of the year, teachers would say they were sad to let the class go, Miss Wilson said.
"I always thought they said that to every class," she said. "But it turns out they didn't."
Miss Wilson, who is taking a year off after graduation to work on conservation and farming in Australia and New Zealand, was class president for all four years of high school.
"It's such an easy class to be the class president of," she said. "Everybody's always there for each other. There's always someone there willing to help you out."
Miss Wilson said her favorite aspect of the class is its closeness.
"I know I didn't do anything to affect that, but being the president of our class, being the person that people come to, it makes me really - I hate to sound like a parent - it makes me so proud of everyone in our class."
There is much to be proud of in the accomplishments of the graduating seniors.
"I think they're very well rounded overall," guidance counselor Shauna Nute said. "They're good students, athletes, artists, musicians - they're good mechanics," she added. Ms. Nute, who is one of three senior class advisors, said many students have also been involved in the community. Some are already emergency medical technicians and firefighters.
"Honestly, this is a class that has won amazing awards," Mrs. Regan said.
Four seniors' photography portfolios went on to compete nationally out of the six students that won the prestigious Gold Key award this year - the highest honor of the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Competition, which 12 Vineyard students received. Those seniors were Marshall Pratt, Ben Sweet, Niko Ewing and Andrew Valenti.
This year's graduating class has the highest number of students going to art schools in the regional high school's history. Seventeen seniors will go on to study fine arts, performing arts, film, music and other art forms at schools like the Savannah College of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York city.
Contributors to the student newspaper won 10 awards - another school record - from the New England Scholastic Press Association, including graduating seniors Niko Ewing for photography, Zoe Shanor for a feature story, Lee Greathouse for artwork and Duncan Pickard, co-editor in chief, for a sports story, a feature story and a column.
There were also many strong athletes in the senior class.
The high school saw its first lacrosse All-American in Edison Parzanese.
The boys' basketball team went to the state tournament led by co-captain best friends John Swan and Matthew Rivers, two of four graduating seniors that grew up in Oak Bluffs, playing basketball together as far back as they could dribble a ball.
Senior sailing co-captains Dylan O'Brien and Elise Swartwood led the sailing team to a sixth place finish out of 84 teams in New England.
"To me this is a class that is very diverse and colorful," Mrs. Regan said. "They're leaving with the same kind of enthusiasm and excitement as when they walked in here as freshmen."