J anuary is a time for post-holiday diets and economic panics, and this year we all face an uncertain future. The new year resolutions we make give us all time to reflect on the choices we make and, with our fingers crossed, we begin the great adventure of another year.
Are our celebrations a collective sigh of relief or indeed the triumph of hope over experience? While we ponder the future, it’s also a time to reflect on our blessings and draw strength from the kindnesses we have received. My own resolution for 2009 is to acknowledge the kindness and strength of our community and publicly thank those who have supported my students in so many different ways. The hope of any community is its young people and there are many who do much to give to our young people opportunities that would not otherwise exist for them.
Every year, members of our Island community come into my classroom and share their experiences for the benefit of my students. This year was no exception and I, and the students for whom I am responsible, owe a debt of gratitude to many talented and generous people.
Island artist Joan Walsh planned her work schedule around the incomprehensible high school schedule so that she could act as mentor and artist in residence to a group of students from the Irish history class who have painted an extraordinary mural depicting the impact of the Great Famine on Irish and American history. The mural is a work of beauty and also a testament to individual talent and group effort, a physical reminder that this is a blessed community.
Thanks are also owed to Jared Meader whose presentation of wrenching honesty and humanity on his military experience in Iraq enthralled and moved over 100 students crammed into a small classroom. I think we can all say that we learned more from Jared about the realities of war than we had ever known from any other source. I will never forget Jared’s response to my request that he come in to talk to the students: “I can’t come Thursday because I am off-Island, and Friday I leave for Iraq so I’ll come tomorrow.” We all felt after Jared’s visit that we had a personal stake in this war.
In October, our sophomore students were entertained in style by the Wampanoag tribe while out on the annual Heritage Trail tour. Christy Moreis was responsible for coordinating a most excellent lunch, and the students were warmly welcomed by Tobias Vanderhoop on behalf of the tribe. Connections were made that we hope will grow with each year, and the student research work on the African American history of the Island is now on display at the Vineyard Museum where it will stay for the next several months.
The sophomores also had an opportunity to write their opinions in their biweekly page in the Gazette, Sophomores Speak Out, where they addressed a diverse range of topics, and they were recently the featured guests on the local television show Tank Talk, where they discussed their strong support for President-elect Barack Obama and analyzed why his candidacy had appealed so strongly to them. The students are proud of their performance on the show and of their published work and we thank our local media for the opportunities that we have been given.
Each year, the most ambitious venture in our part of the world is the annual trip to Ireland for the Irish History classes, and the community has been frequently called on for support. In December, 2008, a group of alumni, Ben Williams, Adam Howell, Brad Tucker and Willy Mason, put on an amazing evening of verse and music at Che’s Lounge in support of the Irish trip. Each of these talented people gave generously to help those only a few years younger than themselves to go to Ireland. It says much about the strength of our community and the relationships that have been formed that former students actually care so much about those who follow them. There is much to say about the kindness of the musicians and their willingness to share their talents, but perhaps the last word of acknowledgement should be given to Erik Monterosso, a former student, who gave a donation of $100 to the Irish fund, and refused to be thanked. “I had the most wonderful time on that trip and learned so much. It was an amazing experience and I want to do anything that I can to help someone else have the same opportunity,” he said.
My heartfelt thanks to the loving community that supports each and all of its children, and my warmest best wishes for 2009.
Elaine Cawley Weintraub teaches global studies at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.