VERO BEACH — The pomp was all there, but one circumstance differed markedly from the norm: St. Edward’s School’s graduating seniors received their diplomas from someone other than the head of school. In what would have been his first graduation in that role, newly appointed Head of School Mike Mersky had to be at his own son’s graduation, from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.
Drawing a brief twitter from the slightly startled audience, Mersky’s face suddenly loomed large on tandem walls within the Waxlax Center for the Performing Arts, in a taped video address to the students. Along with an apology for his absence, Mersky thanked the seniors for what he said was a remarkable first year for him as leader of the barrier island’s private school.
Admitting an emotional nature that he said could make him “cry at Hallmark commercials,” Mersky seemed genuinely moved at the record-breaking academic achievements of the group. The Class of 2010 is believed to have earned the most acceptances to Ivy League colleges in the history of the school.
Mersky pointed out that just as the graduating seniors face challenges in the coming years, so does the school, challenges he called “significant.”
Indeed, there were months when a severe cash shortfall cast doubt on whether the school would ever graduate another senior class, a scenario now safely in the past thanks to rigorous fundraising and last-minute financial arrangements only finalized in March.
Among the graduating seniors were several accepted to Ivy League schools, including the valedictorian, Eric Willett of Fort Pierce, who will be headed for Yale University in the fall.
Willett’s accomplishments include a long string of academic, artistic, and leadership roles – he was elected by fellow competitors as national and state president of a prominent competitive math league, Mu Alpha Theta, having won three First Place awards at the national level. He is an accomplished flutist, and spent summers volunteering in St. Lucie County teaching English as a second language. He also was a National Merit Scholarship finalist and winner of $2500 scholarship.
Willett urged his fellow graduates to “embrace the ambiguity in front of us.”
It was a message echoed by guest speaker Ed Massey, longtime president of Indian River State College, who nevertheless expressed his confidence that the seniors’ generation would go on to “find a cure for cancer, and put a man and woman on Mars. “
The graduates eschewed the customary cap and gown and instead dressed in navy blazers and white slacks or short white dresses. As a result, instead of mortarboards, the students tossed programs into the air when the ceremony ended, to thunderous whoops and applause.