One hundred and fifty-six students gathered under the roof of the Tabernacle for one last time Sunday as they prepared to graduate from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School as the class of 2012.
In the moments before the ceremony began, families, friends and teachers chatted anxiously about the lack of sleep they suffered waiting for this day, using graduation pamphlets to fan away the heat — or perhaps their nerves.
The female students fixed each other’s hair; the males laughed at each other’s sunglasses, all the while waiting for their cue.
When the first notes of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance sounded, the glasses came off, the smiles turned straight and the students stood tall. As they marched down the aisle, the only hands not clapping were those raising cameras, iPhones and a few iPads to capture their last steps from high school.
Master of Ceremony Amalie Tinus welcomed the crowd, then ceded the stage to Salutatorian Riley Donegan.
“I put off this speech for a while,” he said. “The problem was, we are such a connected group of students that I didn’t think I had any sentiment to share that all of you didn’t already completely understand. I’m still not sure I do.” He went on to praise the Vineyard community for supporting sports teams, auctions and fundraisers, and hiring students for summer jobs.
Class essayist Maya Harcourt also touched on the cohesiveness of the group, now about to go its separate ways.
“There are 156 of us in purple or white here today, and we all went to the same high school. . . We all approached high school differently . . . and we were all motivated in different ways to get us here today,” she said. “Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is our commonality. From here we are heading in 156 different directions; 156 different life paths await us.”
Following speeches, Principal Stephen Nixon presented the Vineyarder Award to Carlos Guzman and Noelle Nelson and the Principal’s Leadership Award to Antone Lima. Mr. Lima, the Student Council president, said he was amazed to see more than $850,000 in scholarship money given to his fellow students at the annual Class Night ceremony, held days before.
“The generosity of this Island is very humbling to me,” Mr. Lima said.
Vineyard schools principal James Weiss delivered a spoken-word version of John Lennon’s Imagine before presenting the Superintendent’s Outstanding Student Award to valedictorian William Stewart.
“At a recent baseball game, I had the opportunity to talk to this young man’s mother, who was really very worried about what would happen when he goes off to college. You see, he cooks for the family every night, and she’s really worried about who will make dinner when he’s away,” Mr. Weiss quipped.
Mr. Stewart forwent jokes of his own, opting instead to reflect on the unique experiences the Vineyard had provided his class.
“The Island is a special place, and we probably won’t fully appreciate its value for a long time,” he said. “Wherever life takes us in the coming years, remember the ideals that the Island has instilled in each of us.”
Soon after, one of those special Vineyard moments took place.
With a hint from Mr. Weiss that perhaps Mr. Nixon would whip out his guitar again, the principal did not disappoint. This year he wrote and performed a song specifically for graduation day, titled Buckets Full of Sand, before handing out the long-awaited diplomas.
Few attendees adhered to the side note on the graduation pamphlet: “Please reserve your applause until all diplomas have been awarded.” Instead, every student received a full round of applause, many also accompanied by a “woohoo” or a “yes,” a father’s whistle or a mother’s faint sniffle.
“You may now move your tassels from the right-hand side of your caps to the left-hand side of your caps,” said Mr. Nixon. The freshly graduated Class of 2012 then tossed their caps in the air.
After one last march down the isle, the graduates were greeted by big smiles and hugs from parents as they mingled with other families and friends — a hundred “congratulations” to give. Then the crowd dispersed to separate barbecues, separate cars and separate homes as 156 students began their own separate paths as graduates.