On behalf of all the graduates, I would like to start by thanking all the teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, secretaries, custodians and other faculty members who have made today possible. Your dedication and professionalism have had a positive impact on all our lives. I would also like to thank the families of the graduates, whose love and support is the driving force behind all our accomplishments.

Freshman year marked an important step for all of us. We had to forgo our reputations as mighty eighth graders and assume the roles of timid, insecure freshmen. But we quickly found our respective niches, and by the time we were sophomores we had gained enough confidence to sneak food past Ms. Mott and glance at our phones near Mr. Chvatal.

As juniors, many of us got our licenses and realized a newfound sense of independence. We experimented with how late we could leave our houses and still slip by the “door police” to avoid being marked late. For those who are unaware of the late policy, our vice principals would be glad to explain it to you. Now, as seniors, we have climbed our way back to the top, temporarily the big fish in the pond again.

Today we are all turning the page, embarking on a journey that will present new challenges but also open up a world of opportunity and possibility. Each one of us is leaving the familiar, predictable cocoon that is high school and entering an unknown realm. At times we may have to step out of our comfort zones, but keep in mind that to get the fruit, you have to go out on the limb. Gail Sheehy said that “with each passage of human growth we must shed a protective structure like a hardy crustacean. We are left exposed and vulnerable but also . . . capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.”

In a sense we are all “hardy crustaceans” on the verge of shedding our shells and developing into stronger, more dynamic creatures. While our shells may come and go, our core identities and values will remain deep within our flesh, unaffected by external changes. Like a hardy crustacean, we will always maintain our basic principles, yet will have the opportunity to grow and prosper with each new experience. Graduation is an accomplishment and a rite of passage as we progress to adulthood, but it is also an opportunity to recreate ourselves.

Just because we’ve maintained a certain identity for the past four years doesn’t mean that’s who we’ll always have to be. In order to flourish, we must expand beyond the constraints of our current shells. In doing so, there is an inevitable period of vulnerability, a time when we must sacrifice the safety and security of our current situations and jump into unfamiliar waters. Even if you’re not bold enough to paint your body and streak through the halls in your boxers, find the courage to take a risk. The Island is a special place, and we probably won’t fully appreciate its value for a long time. Wherever life takes us in the coming years, remember the ideals that the Island has instilled in each of us. The community support and collaborative spirit that exist on Martha’s Vineyard are remarkable, and you would be hard-pressed to find another place where the year-round and seasonal residents are so generous.

As you transition to the next phase, cherish your memories and experiences growing up on the Vineyard, and also pay forward the principles which have shaped your character. You may decide that your high school reputation doesn’t mirror the real you. You may not even know who the real you is. As you shed one shell and grow into the next, remember to stay true to your Island roots.

Before you leave today, make an effort to hug or shake hands with someone who you didn’t interact with over the past four years. Although you may not see any similarities now, if your paths cross again in a year or two or maybe 10, you may be surprised at how much you have in common.

As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Congratulations and best of luck to the class of 2012!


William Stewart is valedictorian for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2012. This speech was delivered at commencement ceremonies last Sunday.