The sun finally broke through the clouds Sunday afternoon to greet the new graduates of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School as they processed, smiling and holding hands, into a tie-dye-swathed tent. Nine strong, the class of 2012 — Erica Bartlett, Emma Bleiler, Cherilla “Coco” Brown, Aedan Greene, Elias Brown, Gavin Harrer, Anna “Zen” Hughes, Meagan McDonough and Jake Meegan — filed onto the stage to Neil Young’s Old Man, sporting wreaths of blue flowers and clothing of their choice.
“Your next destinations are very fortunate to receive your thoughts, talents, and thirst for knowledge,” Bob Moore, director of the Charter School, told the graduates. “Thank you for the many contributions you have made to the community.”
During the ceremony each student received a unique award recognizing his or her individual passions, as well as a gift from another class in the school. The kindergarten class gave Ms. Bleiler a hand-quilted unicorn pillow and a book of wishes from each student, like “I hope you dream about unicorns,” and “I hope you fall in love.” Mr. Greene received a hiking safety kit. Mr. Harrer received a custom-made Martha’s Vineyard deck for his skateboard. Ms. Brown received a pet rock from the charter school grounds. Awards included The Noam Chomsky, the Mojo award and the Tina Brown Award.
Four graduates volunteered to deliver a short speech. Ms. Bleiler, native of Falmouth, said riding the ferry every day to school was well worth it. “Here I’m not just another number,” she said. “Even though I’m one of nine.” In her speech Anna “Zen” Hughes thanked her classmates for “filling my adolescence with laughter and smiles.” She thanked the school for “teaching me it’s not about finding yourself, it’s about inventing yourself.” She concluded her speech with a wish for her classmates: “Let the winds be fair, and happy flying.”
The class selected Dan Waters to give the commencement address. He spoke of treating others with kindness and putting others first. “Helping other people is not just worth doing, it’s the only thing worth doing. The good news is that every day we have an almost infinite number of opportunities to change someone else’s life for the better,” he said.
Ms. Brown, a graduate who lives in West Tisbury, remembers feeling ecstatic when, six years ago, she won the lottery to attend the Charter School. She hated elementary school, and would even lock herself in the car in the mornings so that her mother couldn’t drive her. But she found a love of learning at the Charter School, an education she likens to homeschooling. Next year she plans to travel and “see all the things you see in National Geographic, but in real life,” she said.
Classmate Mr. Greene was “totally psyched” to be graduating Sunday, after attending the Charter School for 12 years. He will be leaving a school of 200 to attend a school of 20,000 — UMass Amherst — in the fall. But the change of scene doesn’t faze him, he says, though he’s “definitely going to miss everybody.”
“I’m feeling extremely excited,” Ms. Hughes reported. “Or, as it says in my speech, ‘scared yet liberated.’ Scared because I’m going to be in a new environment with new people, but excited because I’m going to be part of a new community next year, with a new way of teaching and learning. I’m going to be on my own.”
After receiving their diplomas, the graduates, weighed down by gifts, processed out of the tent to Clam Casino’s I’m God to join family, friends and community members in celebration.
Deb Dunn, who teaches third and fourth grade, remembers when a few of the graduates were in her class. “I feel like a proud parent,” she said. “It’s like watching a butterfly hatching from its chrysalis. Like seeing the blood pumping in its wings as it gets ready to fly.”