The Class of 2021 sails into the future

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 3:15pm

“Fill your dreams with sweet tomorrows. Never mind what might have been.”

The closing song of the graduation of 12 Block Island School seniors, set magnificently against a deep blue ocean, could not have been more perfectly worded given the 18 months of Covid they have grown through. One filled with stress, uncertainty, and devoid of many of the group events that normally paint senior-year bookends in high school.
Principal Kristine Monje began by addressing the crowd with a giant relieved smile, and an often breaking voice, as she referenced the weather:
“There is no final curve-ball to this year!”

The large crowd of family and supporters spread over the Spring House lawn, hosted by owner Frank DiBiase. It was perfect, and earned. “We’ve all lived through quite the journey,” Monje surmised.

Noted one set of grandparents sitting on the front porch wicker of the grand hotel: “Of all the past graduating classes, these kids deserved this weather, this setting, this day.”

Savannah Brown and Lucy Rigby-Leather traded turns at the microphone in a back and forth Valedictorian and Salutatorian address that was as unique and special as is this very island.

Rich in personal tales and genuine, heartfelt passion, they recounted growing up together as one extended family through challenges, games,
competition, failings and successes, family issues, all the while earning each other’s respect.

There was a touching Aesop tale of sorts for each classmate going back to kindergarten. Marriage proposals broached in pre-school (declined!), to the daily competition of phys-ed classes, alongside simple but telling classroom successes. Each personal story was recounted from the heart from growing up together when one’s dad rented an apartment in another’s grandmother’s house, leading to dolls versus GI Joe contests up and down stairwells, to maturing from quiet, withdrawn first-graders to confident seniors- 13 years captured in small, telling verbal portraits that often led to hung heads and a trickle of tears.
And then it was on to the awards and speeches. Almost all of them eloquently short and to the point.

State Representative Blake Filippi turned the podium 180 degrees to face the students and address them face to face, counselling them “to take risks. You are a generation that has the tools to respond to challenges, use them well. I am confident as a society we will be just fine with you assuming the mantle of leadership in time.”

A special moment was reserved for teacher Joanne Warfel who is retiring after 30 years. She silently and quietly donated extraordinary extra
time to many immigrant families that have settled on Block Island, affording them counsel in learning English, finding housing, sourcing legal, medical and other services. A new scholarship is being developed that copies a hallmark of Milton Hershey of Pennsylvania that distributes funds to assist individuals who need that boost, and Warfel will be spearheading that selection process.

Numerous scholarships were awarded ranging from music to the American Legion. Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer and Marguerite Donnelly together awarded the annual Mary D. Fund Scholarship. The Mary D. Fund managed to acquire a $200,000 grant from California, and over the past seven months has invested $100,000 for BI students. “There is nothing more important than our investing in the health and education of our island children to create a healthy community,” said Donnelly, the daughter of Mary Donnelly, who established the fund and has been helping islanders in need for over 50 years.
The graduation concluded with a farewell song from English teacher Maureen Flaherty and music teacher Megan Hennessy, “May The Good Lord
Bless and Keep You.” As the recessional march fell apart, families converged on the grads, with plenty of tears, hugs, smiles, and cameras, before guests headed off to an afternoon of family parties.