On Sunday afternoon two hundred graduating seniors will march down the aisle of the historic Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs as the strains of Pomp and Circumstance float out into the warm June seaside air.
This is the Class of 2009, and they will be remembered for their quiet leadership, in all areas of the school and beyond. They led in music, arts, athletics and student newspaper writing. They led younger students in peer groups. They had a fun sense of humor — dashing the entire student body with water balloons as they headed into the parking lot after the final school bell a few weeks ago. It was the traditional class prank and they caught everyone by surprise after spreading the word that there would be no class prank this year, a clever turn for a group of barely eighteen-year-olds.
And on Sunday after the traditional ceremonies and speeches, after the graduates step out of the old iron Tabernacle and into the sunshine (the sun nearly always shines on graduation day here), they will step into the larger world. Some will attend college, and the list of higher education institutions is impressive and diverse. Some will enter the work force, and a larger number than usual have chosen this year to extend their high school education by attending a fifth year at a private secondary school.
And wherever they go they will carry with them two precious gifts: their Vineyard education and their collective experience living and growing up on an Island. Both are filled with caring, familiar people who have enriched both the lives and formal schooling of these students.
Perhaps it was the art teacher who encouraged and prodded a talented young photographer. Or an English teacher who opened the door to a world of good writing and literature. Or a vocational teacher who coached and taught the precision and skills that are required to make a building plumb and square.
Possibly even more important to these young Islanders are the thousands of days they spent outside of school, whether on the quiet back roads of West Tisbury and Chilmark, the warm tawny sweep of South Beach in summer or amid the noise and hubbub of Circuit avenue. Because after all, they are Islanders, first and last.
It is also important at this moment to mention the Vineyard community at large, which invests a great deal in its educational system, and every year graduation is a time to pause and mark the extraordinary generosity of this place. Tonight when seniors and their parents and families gather at the Tabernacle for the traditional Class Night ceremonies, some eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars in scholarship money will be handed out. The money will come from all corners of the Vineyard community, from the Portuguese American Club to the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby to the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard to the Harley Riders. It is perhaps the most striking example of the Vineyard at its best and taking care of its most precious resource: the children of the Island.
The class song this year is Pop Rocks and Coke by Green Day, another small reminder that this class does indeed have a fun sense of humor.
But on Sunday, with a tear in the eye, it is time to send them on their way.
Hats off to the Class of 2009, and best wishes for the future.