Huddling under what served as a gigantic umbrella, graduating senior Mario Spindola looked out from inside the Tabernacle before Sunday's high school graduation and could only smile. "It's a great day," he mused, his eyes scanning the growing crowd. "Too bad it's raining."
Outside it was indeed raining, windy and unseasonably cold for this first weekend in June. But inside it was full of warmth and joy as the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School graduated 189 students in its 45th commencement exercises. After a year of both unprecedented successes as well as tragic losses, this day belonged to the senior class, one that many say is of the more talented, dynamic and motivated to wander the high school's halls.
"I think this is one of the highest achieving classes we have ever had, in all ways and in all levels" said Keith Dodge, a history teacher who has taught at the high school for more than 15 years. Talking with colleagues Kansas Brew and Elaine Weintraub before the ceremony, the three discussed the many virtues of the class of 2004. "At the top we have kids going to fantastic schools like Harvard and Duke and Middlebury, but also many students throughout the ranks who have done above and beyond what might have been expected of them," he said. "I think it is a really good group, and a cohesive group too."
Mrs. Weintraub added that the class's diversity and depth of talents was evident in everything they did, from singing to acting to academics. "They were just immensely talented," she said.
An hour before the purple and white robes began slowly filing down the center aisle, seniors milled about impatiently, anxiously waiting, fidgeting and reflecting. Henrique De Aguiar and Mr. Spindola sat alone together and reflected on the four years that seemed to fly by. "I think it went by really fast," Mr. Spindola said with a smile. "I don't even believe I'm here right now in this place. I still see myself as a freshman and right now I'm graduating." At that, Mr. Aguiar broke into laughter, as this new reality hit home with him, too, and Mr. Spindola could only shake his head. "Yeah, crazy," he said.
Mr. Aguiar will attend Northeastern University this fall, and Mr. Spindola is considering joining the Air Force sometime this winter.
Across the vacant pews, Liza Reynolds and Elizabeth Clark roamed excitedly, fixing their caps and National Honor Society ribbons. The two described their class as diverse and unique. "We're definitely not all alike," Ms. Clark laughed, "but we all have a fun time together."
Ms. Reynolds will attend Middlebury in the fall while Ms. Clark will be right up the road at the University of Vermont.
Caleb Carr and Nate Thayer stood next to the stage watching the crowds filter into the Tabernacle. The two friends were relaxed and content at looking ahead to their futures, starting with the many graduation parties in the night ahead. "I'm ecstatic," Mr. Carr said. "It's good to be done with a high school."
Sudaara White beamed as the band practiced the opening notes to Pomp and Circumstance. "I'm really happy, I'm really happy," she said with a wide grin. "I have been waiting for this for a long time."
History teacher Marge Harris, who left the high school faculty last year to finish her doctorate, came back to say goodbye and good luck to her last class. "This is a wonderful class," she said. "I taught them U.S. history when they were juniors and they are bright, energetic, fun and very independent. It was the last class that I taught at the high school, so that's why I am here. I wanted to come back and see them."
Other longstanding faculty at the regional school offered similar praise. Assistant principal Doug Herr, who is retiring at the end of this school year, said he identified with the class of 2004, characterizing them as an "especially nice" group of students. "The spirit of the class has been great, so I am glad I am going out with them. I get along really well with this class. It's sort of sad and happy at the same time."
As the students moved into line around the rim of the Tabernacle, some of the young men, adorned in Vineyarder purple robes, bounced up and down like prizefighters readying for a bout while others ducked out of the way of the dripping rain. Across the way the young women in their white robes chatted and scanned the audience for relatives, adjusting and readjusting their caps.
And then, finally, their moment had come.
Marshals Jonathan Ryan and Genevieve Flanders escorted the seniors to their seats to applause and cheers. When all were seated, master of ceremonies Duncan MacMullen welcomed the standing-room-only crowd with a quote from Winston Churchill before using themes from It's a Wonderful Life to illustrate the enduring character of his classmates. "We might not know what we have done but maybe someday we will see the differences we have made," he said.
Mr. MacMullen noted that over 60 years ago on this day in France, Operation Overlord was taking place, and more than 175,000 men were "taking part in the greatest invasion known to man." On this afternoon, he said, "189 of us will be invading the real world."
State Sen. Robert O'Leary followed with remarks on his own experiences, cautioning the graduates that while their lives will take them to extraordinary places, there will be hard times and tragedies, too. "If I could choose between talent or luck, I'd choose luck every time," he quipped.
Salutatorian Mariah Peebles then spoke of focusing on the present and not getting too caught up in the future. "The ‘I will' motivates and inspires," she said. "But when looking toward that ultimate end it is easy to lose sight of the line between ‘I will' and ‘I am.' It is easy to miss the moments passing by."
Class essayist Jessie Wiener spoke next, presenting his classmates with a stirring singing performance of a poem he had adapted for music. After spending several months looking for the right song, he found English poet Christina Rossetti's Remember, a poem he said captured the mood of graduation.
"I thought, ‘This is so good,' " he said. "This applies directly to saying goodbye." Mr. Wiener and seven of his classmates then sang his composition before receiving a loud ovation from the audience.
During the awards ceremony, Superintendent Kriner Cash awarded valedictorian Hans Buder with the Superintendent's Outstanding Student Award, describing him as a "very special young man with many extraordinary characteristics." Noting his exemplary academic record, including a perfect 800 on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as well as a perfect 5 on the Advanced Placement history exam, Mr. Cash also pointed to his abilities as quarterback for the high school football team and his accomplishments as a writer and artist. If that wasn't enough, joked Mr. Cash, "Hans also placed third in the state science fair, a first for the high school."
Mr. Cash also presented two Vineyarder Awards to seniors Sarah Paulson and Kenan Chaplin, who had demonstrated significant personal growth and achievement while overcoming adversity.
Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan gave Stuart Bangs the Principal's Leadership Award, while Michelle Holmberg won the Faculty Leadership Award; both graduates were praised as "exemplary models for younger students."
Mr. Bangs, the student faculty council president, followed with a humorous speech recalling, among other things, the extraordinary events his class has witnessed. "When we were in kindergarten, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought about the end of the Cold War," he said. "Being only six years old, we were a little too preoccupied with our fingerpainting and Legos to care." He also noted the rise of the Internet, the mapping of the human genome and the international space station as significant achievements in his generation. None, though, were more important than "one forward-thinking foodstuffs corporation's production of jelly in a squeeze bottle." That, he said, "is a miracle of the 21st century."
In his valedictory, Mr. Buder told his classmates to cherish time in the here and now. He warned of "always waiting for something new" to come along. "We know we're waiting, but we just don't know what for," he said. "We go through life trying to peek around the corner, wishing that we were already there. The sad reality is that once we turn that corner we're already looking around the next one." He advised his classmates to remember to make time to "catch a few sunsets and hold a few pretty girls' hands."
Before the diplomas were handed out, Ms. Regan offered a tribute to the class of 2004 by emphasizing character and strong ethics. "Remember, character is who you are in the dark, when no one is around," she said. She also praised Mr. Herr for his long and distinguished career at the high school, prompting a standing ovation from both parents and students.
At long last the diplomas were awarded, to hoots and hollers from the farthest reaches of the Tabernacle. After the traditional tossing of the caps, the graduates exited the Tabernacle to the tune of Wonderwall by the pop band Oasis.
As the Tabernacle emptied out into the misty rain and joyful friends and family scurried to find their new graduate, proud parents Ken and Abby Bailey embraced amidst tears and laughter before going to find their daughter, Ida. Their second child to graduate from the high school, Ida has a learning disability, making this moment extra special. "This feels really good, it feels great," Mrs. Bailey said. "School was not an easy thing for her, so to have her finish, to pass the MCAS, is pretty exciting."
Ida plans to attend the Riverview School in Sandwich, a two-year post-secondary school program for learning disabled students that combines academics with practical living skills. "It's going to be great for her," Mrs. Bailey added, "and it's only a quick bus ride away." Spotting Ida in the sea of purple and white, Mrs. Bailey let out a gleeful "There she is!" before slipping off to give her new graduate a hug.