By Anna Popnikolova, Assistant Editor in Chief
On Saturday, June 12th, the Nantucket High School senior class of 2021 graduated. The event was held entirely outside, at Backus Lane Field behind the Nantucket Intermediate School building, in order to accomodate COVID-19 precautions. Originally, the ceremony was planned to take place starting at 11am; however, a brief bout of morning showers forced the administration to postpone the start of graduation by an hour. Thankfully, the rain had ceased by the time graduation was rescheduled to begin, and the graduates, as well as the audience, enjoyed both sunshine and warmth for the remainder of the day.
The start of the ceremony was marked by the NHS staff, all of whom were robed, making their way along the center aisle of the audience in pairs. After the teachers moved through, the seniors followed suit, their entrance accompanied by classical music with a triumphant and uplifting tone. The music choice was met with joking comments among the audience that a more modern pop selection may have been more appropriate for the event this year.
The graduate procession organized seniors to travel two-by-two down the center aisle, giving attending friends and family the opportunity to photograph and cheer for them, as well as the general public a chance of a closer examination of their decorated graduation caps. Among the eye-catching caps was that of Reese Burns, former Veritas staff member, which held a flowered dedication to singer/songwriter, Harry Styles, with the quote “I did it for Harry Styles” surrounded by yellow and white flowers.
Once the seniors had all finished their procession through the audience, were seated around the stage, and received a standing round of applause from the public, the program began. Caroline Harding greeted the attendees, congratulated the graduates, and addressed NHS principal Mandy Vasil, identifying her as Nantucket High School’s new “kick-ass” principal. Harding then introduced the first speaker of the morning, Reese Burns, whose second-highest GPA awarded her the hard-earned title of salutatorian.
Burns made a touching speech about Nantucket’s community, her life growing up within it and the Nantucket Public Schools district, the way it was affected by the pandemic, and her life on Nantucket Island. She said that, “we had the rare opportunity to grow up on an island” and, while recognizing issues like summer tourists and erosion, claimed that it was truly a unique and wonderful experience for her to have grown up on Nantucket. Burns led a timeline of her favorite memories from her youngest years to most recent time at NPS, identified her hopes for the future and thanked her classmates and teacher for those memories. She finished her remarks with a “congratulations” to everyone
Next to stand was Dr. Elizabeth Hallet, superintendent of the NPS district. She also spoke about the pandemic’s effects on the community within the school, congratulating the seniors for overcoming all the obstacles which the past year placed upon them, praising them on kindness and sense of humor. Dr. Hallet quoted St. Francis: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Her remarks were partially translated into Spanish during her time speaking. While the whole ceremony was not accessible to non-English-speakers, these comments aimed to recognize the high school’s high and ever growing Spanish-speaking population.
After Dr. Hallet concluded her address, the seniors were instructed to take the roses placed below their seats, to bring them out into the audience, and to gift them to their family, friends and loved ones. Roses were given to family members, old teachers and friends, and the seniors returned to their seats to receive remarks from Veritas’s former editor-in-chief JohnCarl McGrady, valedictorian of the class of 2021.
McGrady first jokingly assured the audience that the graduation cap on his head may fall off at any time during his speech and that, if it did fly off, the occurrence was absolutely purposeful on his part. He then read an entry from the Oxford English Dictionary, claiming that online instructionals had warned speech writers to never quote the Oxford English Dictionary, which McGrady questioned upon reading the definition of “meningitis.” He directed some jokes towards his English and Bio teachers, then transitioned into a more serious discourse on the importance of adaptation and the ability of people to adapt according to their constantly changing environment. His example of this flexible nature was the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on his senior and junior years at Nantucket Public Schools; he and his fellow graduates had to deal with changes in their environment this year that most classes do not, and the fact that every student flanking him still found success this year, and met the requirements for graduation is a certainly a lesson in adaptability. Lightheartedly, McGrady concluded his brief speech with once more reading from the dictionary, selecting the word “tiara” as his final definition. He descended from the stage on that humorous note.
Sequentially, members of the Accidentals and the Naturals took the stage; Maisie Cocker and Caroline Harding stood beside one another to sing a beautiful acoustic rendition of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House. Cocker played guitar and sang a touching duet with Harding, capturing the audience’s emotions with lyrics about growth and love.
Afterwards, Pulitzer Prize finalist, author, and historian Nathaniel Philbrick was introduced as the keynote speaker of the event. He offered the seniors his congratulations on completing their high school education at Nantucket High School, and began by playing off the jokes McGrady had made about his graduation cap, with a warning that the cap he was wearing may lead to a wardrobe malfunction on the stage. He talked about his life on Nantucket and exploration of Nantucket’s History, and the inspiration behind writing his first novel, “Away Off Shore.” Philbrick quoted John Steinbeck in saying that, “We do not take a trip, a trip takes us.” He said that success will never be handed easily to the seniors, and that they will most definitely have to work for what they want, that they will have to overcome obstacles and challenges, but that their journeys will lead them through life and render them wiser and let them grow further as people in their years.
Class President Camie Strojny was next to step on the podium. Her words were metaphor-heavy, comparing the relationships she has made in her life with the intertwined roots of a tree. Strojny used examples from wonderful people she has met in her life, all the life lessons she has learned from those relationships, all the little words of wisdom she picked up from various figures through the years, the way they affected the person she has grown to be. The heartfelt address was emotional and nostalgic, wrapping student remarks on a personal note.
“Kick-ass” NHS principal, Mandy Vasil next headed up to make her statements— she tearfully thanked and congratulated the seniors on their last year at NHS. The overarching theme of her speech seemed to be perseverance, through every setback of the previous year, and the difficulties overcome by the graduates. She included some quotes about happiness and positivity, and then listed some of the “vocab words” learned by the NPS district over 202o in regards to the pandemic. Words like “social distancing” relating to COVID-19, phrases like “put your mask up”, “let’s see what the numbers are”, and “you’re still on mute.” More positively, she also included the word “perseverance”, for she claimed that the quality to persevere has been what the graduating NHS seniors have truly shown when met with hurdles and setbacks.
Here, the seniors received handmade notes from the current NES kindergarteners—class of 2033—with kind words and advice from the children. These notes included lines like; “hope you love dogs!”, “hope you love recess!”, “go to class!”, “never forget math class,” and, “never forget Nantucket,” as a reminder to the seniors to remember their time on island, even as they move off the island to study elsewhere.
To award diplomas to the graduating seniors, Dr. Hallet, Vasil, and Vice Chair of the School Committee, Jennifer Iller, took the stage. The rows of graduates were called, and individual students were beckoned up one by one to accept their diplomas. After the seniors moved their tassels from right to left on their graduation caps to indicate completion of their time at NHS, the educators once again lined the center aisle of the audience. They framed the walkway on both sides and welcomed the graduates once they tossed their caps into the air. The new graduates move through their teachers, giving hugs and handshakes, taking photographs with their family and friends, the public applauding and continually congratulating the seniors.
The class of 2021 entered graduation on Saturday as senior students of Nantucket High School and left the event as Nantucket High School graduates. After their final farewells with their NHS educators, embraces and documentation in the form of cell phone pictures, the graduates marked the end of their time at Nantucket High School. Though the event and this school year have been different than most, the Nantucket Class of 2021 are now ready to emerge into the world, no longer students, but high school graduates.