ST. THOMAS — Thirty-eight students graduated from Antilles School Saturday in a ceremony held at the school’s Mark C. Marin Center, to the delight of a full gymnasium of family and friends. As the Class of 2019 passed through the “arch of love” formed by the well-wishing staff and faculty at the end of the ceremony, they could be sure of one thing: They are, and always will be, part of the Antilles School family.
Family is at the heart of Antilles School. The bond between students, parents, teachers and other staff is something the school takes great pride in. However, for this particular class, the word family is meant literally, as well. The mothers of graduates Kelsey Swan and Danielle Brady are faculty members at the school, as are both parents of graduate Trinity Riggle.
For keynote speaker Monesh Mohanani, an alum of the school’s Class of 1988 and prominent local businessman, the ceremony was a family milestone. His twins, Sameer and Serena, were part of this year’s graduating class, as well as his nephew, Vikram Mohanani. Additionally, as class president, Serena had a speech of her own to give during the ceremony.
Few exemplify that spirit better than the family of salutatorian Grace Randall. The family of Maggie Huang, one of two valedictorians this year, moved back to the states after hurricanes Irma and Maria, but Huang was determined to finish high school at Antilles. The Randall family opened the doors of their Water Island home to her so she could graduate with her class. Both girls were recently named National Merit Scholars.
As with all families, a time comes for the upcoming generation to branch out on their own, and the Class of 2019 will spread throughout the country to further their education. Randall heads to Princeton University to study environmental engineering in the fall, but will always remember her time at Antilles.
“I’ve been here since kindergarten and some of the others have, too, so I grew up with them my entire life,” she said before the ceremony. “They’re like siblings. If you have issues, you learn to work it out. I think that’s an important skill.”
For Huang, Antilles took a bit of adjustment, coming from a high school with a graduating class of over 300 three years ago to a small and close-knit class of 38. She was welcomed, and used their support to overcome her biggest challenge.
“The hardest part for me was living away from my family,” she said. “At the same time, it really has helped to develop my independence, so I’m grateful for that.”
Huang will attend Carnegie Mellon University to study computer science. Her interest lies in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.
Bethany Vazquez Smith, also named valedictorian, will study biology at the University of Pennsylvania. She credits Antilles School with preparing her for college life.
“I would definitely say going to a small school has prepared me for the college experience,” she said. “It’s not just the work and the difficulty level, but also in terms of the people you meet and the connections you make. They really encourage people to take try a lot of new experiences. They encourage people to be a part of the community and just be aware that you don’t have the limits that you might think you have.”
In his commencement address, Mohanani likened the support the graduates received to a tool box. “Your teachers, family and friends have all put a tool in your toolbox for the last 18 years of your lives,” he said. “Tomorrow you leave with your full box … There may come a time when you look at the task and look in the box and you don’t think the tool exists. Here’s your chance. Create it.”