Friends, family and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2014 filled the Trinity Park Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Sunday afternoon.
At 1:30 p.m. the school band started to play Pomp and Circumstance as the seniors marched into the tabernacle. Per tradition, the boys wore purple caps and gowns, and the girls wore white. The entire audience stood as the seniors walked in pairs and found their seats at the front.
Sam Permar, this year’s master of ceremony, took the podium first. He spoke about this year’s historic value - as the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first television appearance, the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ first single, and, of course, the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls.
“But 2014 is also the year that we graduate high school,” continued Mr. Permar. “As the culmination of an ambitious 13-year process, all of us are going to pursue even more growth and challenges; challenges that we’ll overcome thanks to our histories on this Island.”
Valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers spoke about making the world a better place.
— Ivy Ashe
After a recitation of the pledge of allegiance, salutatorian Barra Peak spoke of her appreciation for the public school system. She described the history of public education in Massachusetts, dating back to the Horace Mann.
“I think Horace Mann would be very pleased with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School,” she said. “MVRHS embodies all of his principles.”
She spoke about the involvement of the community, and all of the support that the students receive from individuals, businesses and organizations across the Island. “On Martha's Vineyard, education is truly a community endeavor.”
Nathaniel Horwitz, class essayist, described the talent of the individual members of the class of 2014. Rather than describing their accomplishments in abstract terms, Mr. Horwitz listed specific achievements that stood out in this talented class.
“We live in a special place but you all know that,” said Mr. Horwitz. “I have no advice for you today, no insightful message or sentimental speech about a childhood on the Island. Instead, I would like to recognize some of the kids who have made this class exceptional.”
David DaSilva gets a round of applause.
— Ivy Ashe
Although he did not have a chance to mention every graduate, the entire class cheered enthusiastically as he listed the tremendous achievements in athletics, art, music and academics.
Before presenting the Superintendent’s Outstanding Student Award, Dr. James Weiss gave a brief commentary on the senior class. He invoked David McCullough Jr.’s book, You Are Not Special:…And Other Encouragements to explain to the students the importance of resilience and appreciating the opportunities before them.
“The lesson I would take from Mr. McCullough’s speech and his book is to be encouraged to go out into the world,” said Dr. Weiss. Take risks, make mistakes, learn and grow as a result. Find that passion, the thing that drives you.”
This year’s Superintendent Award went to Sarah Ortlip-Sommers. In addition to being this year’s valedictorian, Ms. Ortlip-Sommers is the president of the national honor society and editor and chief of the school newspaper. She is also an accomplished musician and dancer and is actively involved in the community.
Matthew D’Andrea, acting principal of the high school, offered two more awards to members of the graduating class. This year’s Vineyarder Award, which is annually given to one male and one female member of the graduating class who showed tremendous growth, was given to Andrew Jacobs Walsh and Jade Pine.
Hartley Sierputoski picks up her diploma.
— Ivy Ashe
The Principals Leadership Award, which is offered to a senior for exceptional leadership, was given to G Galen Mayhew. Mr. Mayhew served as editor and chief of the newspaper, captain of the cross-country team, and was actively involved in numerous extracurricular activities.
Mr. Permar then introduced the next speaker as the “student council president, and future president of the United States, Mary Ollen.” Ms. Ollen also took the time to show her appreciation for the Island community.
“Not only are we lucky enough to experience the fantastic MVRHS community, we are also a part of the Island community as a whole,” she said. “This community has supported both our academic and our extracurricular activities. There was never a game with an empty fan section, or an honors night that wasn’t packed.”
Ms. Ortlip-Sommers then took the podium again, this time to give her speech as valedictorian. She urged her classmates to use their education and their lives to help others, and to make the world a better place. She spoke about the importance of trying to change the world for the better.
“Starting today, we are no longer a high school class, but while today we begin to travel down our separate paths, we all still share one thing. All of us now hold something that we have never had before: the ability to shape our own future, and I hope you use this new found freedom to change the world for the better,” she said.
At the end of her speech, Ms. Ortlip-Sommers read a line that her aunt had planned to read at her own graduation. Tragically, her aunt died just days before graduating and never read the speech herself.
“We must believe in ourselves enough to be able to listen fully to our own voice, and to trust that voice alone,” read Ms. Ortlip-Sommers.
The final speech of the afternoon was given by retired English teacher Keith Dodge, who was invited by the senior class to speak. Mr. Dodge kept his remarks positive and upbeat. He explained his own journey in becoming a teacher, and the many detours that he took along the way.
“You should never stop thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your lives,” he told the graduates. He also spoke about the importance of hard work, perseverance and living deliberately.
“I suggest that every once in a while you stop and think about what you are doing with your life and where you are headed,” he said. “Think about the things that you want to make happen in your life. You only travel this way once and it doesn’t hurt to have a few destinations in mind. Don’t drift through life.”
Finally, the students lined up to receive their diplomas. Their names were read one at a time, and each graduate bounded proudly across the stage. After all the students had returned to their seats, the recessional music began to play. The new graduates then took off their caps and sent them soaring into the air.