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Commencement Address from Superintendent Scott Carpenter, Ed.D. - Jun 1, 2024

Class of 2024, family, friends, and Monomoy staff, you have just witnessed the Superintendent accomplishing one of his big goals for this year – walking up to the podium at tonight’s graduation, unassisted, on my own two feet. I know that may seem like a pretty pathetic goal, but being able to walk up here without falling has been on my mind for the past five months.

I am a fiercely independent person who found himself needing a lot of help after a simple slip-and-fall accident. I am not very good at asking for help when I really need it, despite constantly telling others to always reach out for help if they need it. Just before Christmas, I slipped on a patch of ice on my deck and took a pretty bad fall. It was immediately obvious that my right leg was severely injured. A wise man would have called for an ambulance – instead, lying flat on my back on the ground, I called one of my colleagues to let them know that I probably wasn’t going to make it into the office that day. I somehow managed to put on sweats and asked one of our kids to help me limp down two sets of stairs off of the deck and into a car. Perhaps I should have listened to my colleague when she said, “Why are you calling me and not an ambulance?” Sometimes being fiercely independent gets in the way of common sense.

My fractured ankle would require plates and screws and my knee was going to need to be rebuilt. I spent the next three months with my right leg propped up above my heart, and when it wasn’t propped, I used a wheelchair. This gave me a lot of time to reflect on all the little things that I took for granted: like walking, driving, going out with friends, doing my own laundry, cooking for myself, and even taking a shower. For the first time in my life since early childhood, I was completely reliant on the help of others, and I found myself appreciating service in an entirely different way.

We live in a community and world where there are others who need our help. Those who need help have many faces: there are families in need, the elderly couple down the street, a neurodivergent young adult trying to find their niche in life, individuals struggling with mental health challenges, and me at my worst this past winter.

Monomoy’s Portrait of a Graduate identifies the major dispositions we hope our students will embody by graduation. One quadrant of this Portrait is being an Engaged Citizen: to act with integrity, to treat others with empathy, to recognize and respect diversity, and to take action and engage. Simply stated, that engagement is service to others.

I spent the past few days at the U.S. Air Force Academy attending my son’s graduation and commissioning as an officer. With every visit to the Academy, you can’t help but notice the ever-present reminder of the Air Force’s Core Values.

  • Integrity first
  • Service before self
  • Excellence in all we do

Their core values are remarkably similar to how Monomoy defines the traits that we hope to see in the engaged citizens we graduate. From the day cadets arrive at the Academy, they get off of a bus, stand at attention on a set of footprints, are given some helpful feedback by very friendly upperclass instructors, and after the shock-and-awe introduction to military life, the new cadets march up a ramp and into the Academy. Towering above them throughout this initial ordeal are those core values.

Over the course of the next four years, the cadets will march down that ramp and back up the ramp, time and time again. Until at the end of four years, young men and women emerge, ready to be commissioned as officers … ready to place “service before self.” This type of college experience isn’t for everyone, but the core values instilled are ones worth living.

The faces of those who can serve are as diverse as those here today. Some may choose to serve their country in the military, like Monomoy senior Tatum Jacobs, who has enlisted in the Air Force, and like my son, will live up to that core value of service before self.

Some may choose other professions that involve service to others. Some bravely serve as members of public safety, like retired Harwich Fire Chief Norm Clarke and his sons, Ryan and Tom.

Some choose to serve as educators, sharing a commitment to help children grow and mature, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. In doing so, at every grade level, they played a role in preparing today’s graduates for their future.

Some will go on to careers in health services, like the specialists who put my right leg back together, or like Robert and Brendan, the two physical therapists whose work helped me be able to walk up to this podium tonight.

Some simply serve by performing little acts that make a world of difference for those in need. When I first returned to my office at the middle school, I was in a wheelchair. My right leg couldn’t bend, so I couldn’t drive. I relied on Uber or being driven by others, including my daughter who volunteered to be my chauffeur for her entire spring break from college. There was a really special Uber driver, who saw how difficult it was for me to even get into his car. When we arrived at my house on a cold icy night, he realized how hard it was going to be for me to wheel myself up the ramp that had been built at my house. The Uber driver went out of his way to push me up the ramp and get me safely through the door. I am too proud and too independent to ask for his help, but he could see that someone was in need, and through a small act of service made a big difference for me that evening. And, yes, he got a great tip and a 5-star review.

There are those who serve out of the kindness of their own heart. The construction of that ramp that allowed me to get in and out of my house is a great example of this. My son had the misfortune of trying to get me out of the house and to a doctor’s appointment over the Christmas break. It was pouring rain, my ankle was in a heavy cast, and it would be another six weeks before doctors were able to surgically repair my destroyed knee – getting me out of the house, down the stairs, and into a car was an extremely painful comedy of errors. My son drew up plans for a ramp to get me safely out of my house but needed help. For hours I heard the sounds of saws and electric screwdrivers, and when I wheeled myself to the door to see how my son was fairing, there was Monomoy’s Facilities Director, Rick Travers, helping my son on a project when I couldn’t.

Rick epitomizes what service can look like. In his youth, Rick stood at attention on the yellow footsteps at Parris Island and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He went on to spend the past 20+ years ensuring school facilities were ready for learning at Old Rochester, Martha’s Vineyard, and for the last eight years here at Monomoy. Without Rick helping my son, I either was never going to leave my house or would have hurt myself worse trying to get down the stairs.

There are those who serve their community on town boards, committees, and as volunteers. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have placed service to their community over other self-interests. In the last two years, Monomoy has seen two pillars of public service step down from the School Committee, and I want to take a moment to thank Terry Russell for his 13 years of service and Sharon Stout for her 12 years of service and to the students and families of Monomoy, and our towns.

Opportunities to serve can present themselves any day, anywhere. You’re out for a walk on Red River Beach – do you step over trash or make a difference in the moment? An elderly shopper is having trouble reaching an item on the top shelf at the grocery store – do you wait to see if they ask for help or do you proactively offer to assist? You are away at college and come across someone alone and sobbing in a remote corner of the library – do you presume that someone else will help or do you stop, let them know that you see them, that you are there, and inquire if you can do anything to support them?

As Martin Luther King Jr. once emphasized, “Everybody can serve.” Service could be a vocational commitment, but more often it can happen through small, selfless acts. We live in a world with so much need, with some people suffering because they haven’t found a way to ask for help. Don’t wait to be asked before making a difference … just act, and embody the value of service before self.