Dressed in gowns, wearing mortarboards and tassels they walk up the aisle and across the stage to receive diplomas in front of family, teachers, peers and the community. They are young adults now, ready to drive off into their futures with courage, fear, conviction and indecision. Such is the nature of graduation day.

But it wasn’t long ago, a blink of an eye really, that they started this journey, perhaps wearing costumes of a much different sort — a Spider Man suit to brave the new frontier of kindergarten, a tutu, flowing cape or astronaut suit to embrace the rigors of first grade in style.

They held the hands of parents, grandparents and caregivers during those early years, walking side by side or maybe lingering behind. And then one day they let go and ran off to the playground while an adult stood slightly askew, feeling rather helpless and alone. Do the students remember that moment now, while walking across the stage pondering the places they will go? Guaranteed the audience does.

Along the way, many teachers became mentors as did coaches, administrators, bus drivers, the school nurse bandaging a skinned knee or bruised feelings. A few became antagonists, tough when warmth was needed or simply oblivious to their own effect. The school years, that dynamic, confusing, formative period of life, have lingering effects that influence one’s world view, both positive and negative.

As graduation day looms and students start shrugging off, for the summer or forever, the too-tight institutional bonds that are an inevitable part of school, tension always seems to build, and this year seems unusually fraught.

There are so many rules and early alarms, tests of will and experiments with things forbidden, disagreements and parting of ways. High school is a time when growing empowerment repeatedly confronts a lack of power, when independence is still tethered to a short leash. It is a time when students of today grapple with the past, most specifically that of their parents and teachers. The various eras offer a kaleidescope of perspectives and shifting truths.

Has there been a more complex time to come of age than this one? Most seniors began kindergarten 11 years ago; if not the dawn of the smart-phone then definitely the early hours. Social media, sea levels, gender fluidity, school shootings — all rose while they attended class each year. A diploma contains all this and more, encompassing the personal and the communal.

These challenges are not confined to students themselves. Parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, school administrators, employers are all struggling to adapt to new realities that seem to be changing at warp speed. Are they handling it correctly? Even with perfect insight into the facts and circumstances of every decision, the answer will of course be no.

The Vineyard does not have walls but it has shores, which sets it apart. Both renowned and small town, the community is very close and its roots run deep. The passing of the torch on graduation day includes names that go back generations to the newly arrived. The pride for all is palpable at each ceremony around the Island and is backed up financially with monetary scholarships that no other community comes close to. Millions of dollars in are given out each year to regional high school and charter school students. Large and small, year-round and seasonal, the gifts represent every group imaginable and although the money is important the gesture and good will speak even louder.

The insularity of the Vineyard also has its drawbacks. It is too easy to imagine that one has superior insight into how to handle issues that come from nowhere — who even knew the word vaping five years ago? In a school setting, where the need to protect the privacy, physical and mental health and safety of minors is paramount, it is unfair to pass judgment on actions where all the facts are, necessarily, not in evidence.

To the graduates: now begins your chance to take what you’ve learned — drawing strength from the good and lessons from the bad — and figure out how you can make the best decisions for yourself and for the world. And so good luck to all — the speech-givers and athletes, the singers and actors, the optimists and pessimists, the talkers and wallflowers, the traditional and the unconventional.

The Island is proud of you and will always be here for you.