Wearing flower garlands instead of caps and gowns, two girls and three boys were graduated from the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School on Saturday under a tent sheltering friends, family, teachers, administrators and alumni from the overcast sky and smell of rain that threatened a downpour - but held off for the length of the ceremony.
There was standing room only under the white tent strung with colorful fabric and the swelling noise of greetings and reunions before graduation exercises began at 11:30 a.m.
The sound of the Beatles singing Here Comes the Sun quieted the audience as the music floated over the rows of chairs. All stood as graduating seniors Nikole Brown, Korilee Connelly, Rubin Cronig, Matthew McCurdy and Elliot Morris walked confidently out of the school, across the lawn, beneath the dripping entrance of the tent, down the aisle and on stage. They sat together on a long, carved bench.
Charter school director Robert Moore welcomed the audience and praised the class of 2006, highlighting their community service. He also gave special acknowledgement to Mr. Morris and Mr. McCurdy, who attended the school since it opened 10 years ago, earning them the title of charter starters.
"Elliot and Matt, your personality and kindness have helped shape the personality and kindness of this school," Mr. Moore said. "The school has grown in many ways. The same is true for you."
Mr. Moore then spoke about each student separately. "You represent everything the founders dreamed of and talked about," he concluded.
After an address by charter school board of trustees president Sam Berlow, each graduate was presented with gifts from students.
The kindergarten class gave Mr. Morris a pair of binoculars and an illustrated book they made titled Where's Elliot? in honor of his past and future sailing adventures and travels.
The first and second grade classes bestowed Miss Connelly with an artist's apron filled with art supplies to support her pursuit of painting, photography and journalism at San Francisco State University next fall.
Miss Brown received culinary items from the third and fourth grade classes. She is contemplating opening a restaurant after studying business management at Salem State College and perhaps attending culinary school.
The fifth and sixth grade classes gave Mr. Cronig business cards, letterhead and a pen set to aid him in his business pursuits - both at Wheaton College next fall and with his watch company Kronos Elite he started while attending the charter school.
Mr. McCurdy received student artwork and books on motorcycles and collecting cars from the seventh and eighth grade classes to feed his interest in mechanics and antique automobiles. He plans to work for Kevco Professional Painting, teach windsurfing at Winds Up and work for his father at McCurdy Motorcars.
High school gifts to the graduating students included a student-made movie, bubbles (to remember to float through life) and postcards (to remember home).
Class advisor Lori Shaller presented graduate awards to each student, along with a thematic book. Miss Brown received the Cook Award, Miss Connelly the Princess Diana Award, Mr. Cronig the Kronos Elite Award, Mr. McCurdy the Pooh Bear Award and Mr. Morris the Odyssey Award.
Lynn Van Auken, president of Options in Education gave $500 scholarships to the three members of the graduating class who will pursue post-secondary education in the fall. She gave all five students Bunch of Grapes Bookstore gift certificates.
Each graduating student then addressed the audience from the podium.
Miss Brown and Miss Connelly stood together and took turns thanking teachers, administrators, school staff, fellow students, graduates, family and friends, drawing applause - and laughter - from the crowd.
"Thanks for being the snazziest tie-wearing director there is," Miss Connelly said to Mr. Moore. "We will miss you asking us every day ‘How we doin?' But most of all, we will miss you and seeing the joy you bring to this community."
Miss Brown closed the speech, saying: "The charter school and the community itself is like a jigsaw puzzle in which we all fit together perfectly as a family. When people - like pieces - are missing, we aren't whole. This is an amazing community to be a part of and we are so thankful to be the class of 2006."
Mr. Cronig heralded the school he said inspired and supported him after other schools he attended came up short.
"Everyone dreams, and perhaps some would argue I dream more than most," said Mr. Cronig, who in ninth grade decided he would start a company before he left high school. "Some would even go so far as to say my dreams aren't realistic. One of the amazing things about the charter school is that I was never told that here. And I believe it is the school's ability to embrace my dreams that has helped me to make them a reality."
Mr. McCurdy shared two thoughts from the podium: love and gratitude. "I've enjoyed all the years I've spent at the charter school," he said. "Thank you."
Mr. Morris then stood, drawing a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket.
"Ten years is a long time to be here," he said slowly with the trace of a smile. Appreciative laughter answered him. "I've seen this school grow from a hallway and four trailers to what it is today."
He elicited more laughs with a list of funny memories that he would treasure, like crazy hat days that could win him a piece of pizza, and the day the school almost burned down when someone put a paper towel in the toaster.
Turning serious, Mr. Morris said: "I don't really want to leave because it's like a second home."
Mr. Morris concluded with 26 mystifying words - a quote from a computer class his father taught at the charter school years before. He told audience members they weren't likely to understand it, but he would explain later if they asked.
The quote began: "Quick! Ask Zoey what stops X-rays. Even dogs can't."
What did it mean? It was a trick for remembering the order of the letters on a computer keyboard, in downward diagonals from the left. A tuneless song Mr. Elliot loved to sing for its sound and effect on people, this was his last chance to speak it as a student of the charter school.
The audience gave Mr. Morris and the class a standing ovation.
Former school council member Rebecca Prager, who flew from California for the graduation, was the student-elected speaker for the commencement address. Ms. Prager, who left the school in June 2005, was also a student advisor for the development of the teen center, working closely with Miss Brown and Miss Connelly.
Turning the podium to face the students, Ms. Prager read her journal entry from the day before her own high school graduation, offering wisdom from Nelson Mandella before hugging each student in turn.
The graduating class then presented the school with a gift - a star-shaped clock the students had crafted by hand.
"We're going to put it out in front of the school so it can shine down on all of you while we're gone," Miss Connelly said.
The students then received their diplomas and with rolled-up certificates in hand, they speed-walked off the stage, down the aisle and out of the tent, their final departure from school.
Pictures by Jaxon White