FI School Commencement for the Class of 2019

by Jane Ahrens

Fishers Island Theater opened the doors Friday, June 21 to the sound of “Minuet” and “Pomp and Circumstance” played beautifully by the Fishers Island School Band, and welcomed the School community, family, friends, and guests to the Class of 2019 Commencement.

Click the brackets in the lower left to see the program in full screen.

Superintendent Karen Goodwin’s Commencement Address

To Nik, Izzy, Nicholas, and Gabe:

Thank you for extending to me the honor of serving as your speaker at this important life milestone, a ceremony that you will forever remember. It has been a privilege and pleasure to watch you all grow into the intelligent, independent, and creative young adults we are all here to celebrate today. You have met the rigorous curricular standards established by your talented and dedicated teachers in a school that ranks in the top 5% of all New York districts for students’ average individual academic growth. As such, march proudly off of this stage at the end of this commemorative event knowing that you have all of the tools, skills, and knowledge you each need to succeed and excel at Dalhousie University, Ithaca College, Seton Hall University, and the Lincoln Culinary Institute.

Knowing you can succeed at your next school is important, but… do you also have what it takes to succeed in LIFE? The answer is a resounding YES…because All You Will Ever Need to Know You Learned…on the FERRY! I did the math, and I estimate that collectively you have spent at least 6,750 hours, or 281 days, on the Fishers Island Ferry District’s Race Point and Munnatawket vessels. That comes close to the number of hours a prospective commercial boat captain must ride in order to secure a license.

Here are the eight life lessons that you, and many of us in this auditorium this evening, have learned during your extensive time on our island’s beloved boats:

Ferry Life Lesson #1: THERE ARE NO FREE RIDES! 

Just as you must purchase a ticket in order to board the ferry, the diploma you will soon receive is your ticket to your future. Although Board President Doucette will present it to you, it did not come free, but rather is the culmination of your hard work over the course of your school career…research papers, books you read, science lab reports, art projects, music performances, and rigorous Regents Examinations surely come to mind. In fact, your graduation today is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning in which you will need to continuously EARN what you want from your life…be it a college degree, an officer position in the military, your dream job, your own business, a role in a Broadway musical, a home of your own, tickets to the Super Bowl, or an adventurous life of travel. Set your goals, and then do the hard work to achieve them as there are no free rides in life.

Ferry Life Lesson #2: DON’T MISS THE BOAT! 

I know that you have personally learned that there are few to no options to get to Fishers Island School on time if you miss the ferry. So you learn to arrive before the train, factor in the road construction, and purchase your tickets in advance. During your voyage through life, amazing opportunities will present themselves…DON’T MISS them! Learn to recognize them,

carefully consider them, and go after those with the most promise. The possibilities are endless and impossible to predict… a fascinating internship, a backpacking trip to Europe with friends, a vacation with family, or the opportunity to become an entrepreneur by bringing an innovative original idea to market.

Don’t miss the boat on what could be life changing experiences.

The bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff.


It’s pretty basic…No matter how skilled the captain, the ferry goes nowhere when the engine is dead. Therefore, a tremendous amount of the Ferry District’s time, energy and money is spent on preventative maintenance and regular monitoring of the engine’s performance. You, too, must maintain your personal engine, your human body, in near perfect condition. Without your health, your hopes and dreams become a futile effort. Only YOU can keep your body engine humming by getting an annual preventative maintenance check by your doctor, giving your engine the ‘down time’ it requires through adequate sleep, fueling it with nutritious foods, and striving for stress relief by regularly engaging in physical activities you truly enjoy. Do whatever it takes to maintain the one engine you get in perfect working order.


You know through the annual ferry emergency drills you complete with Mr. RJ Burns and the ferry captains exactly where to find and how to properly put on a Coast Guard certified personal flotation device. In an emergency, the support of this PFD could mean the difference between life and death.

Although you each want and expect to lead an overall happy life, you do know that you will experience personal crises and challenges. During times of trouble, you must have emotional support. What will keep you afloat if and when your ship starts to sink? Whether it’s a friend, family member, pet, trusted professional or special place, know what and where your life preserver is and reach for it the minute you need it.

Ferry Life Lesson #5: IT TAKES A TEAM. 

Can you imagine the ferry captain going it alone? He or she knows firsthand that disaster would result if not for the deck hands to safely load the cars, collect the tickets, check the engine, help direct the captain to the dock, ensure safe passenger conduct, raise and lower the mechanical gangplank, and, at times, distribute barf bags to the occasional seasick passengers. No matter your chosen career, you will need to be part of a high-functioning, unified team to meet with success. A chef needs first rate meat and produce suppliers; a director and stage crew are essential to an actress, an environmental researcher and steward requires reliable data from lab technicians, and an officer in the military must count on his

troops to courageously and loyally follow orders to safeguard the nation. Don’t ever forget that it takes a team and do everything you can to support and value every single member of it.


As much as we all want to believe that we’re in complete control of our lives, we’re NOT. No one knows this more than the ferry captains, who day after day start from point A in New London and head via the river and sound to point B on Fishers Island, and then back again. You’d think they could be on auto pilot. But just as strong winds, currents, and storms force the captains to chart a lengthier new course and tack to get to their destination, you, too, will need to tackle unexpected and unplanned rip tides, rough waves and perhaps even a tsunami that will interrupt your life voyage. But like the captains, you, too, have the power to accept that which is out of your control, and to plan and navigate a different route to your desired destination… just as long as you don’t let your frustration serve as a dam to your progress. Captain Burns reminds us that “as in life, storms and foul weather at sea are overwhelming and can be frightening but are not permanent and will soon safely pass if you have the confidence and stay the course.”


Upon arriving here to live and work 7 years ago, I didn’t realize just how diverse our tiny island community was until I needed to ride the 7 o’clock ferry on a weekday morning, right before Labor Day. The boat was packed with people of diverse ages, skin colors, cultures, occupations, and economic status… many of whom I have since had the privilege to meet and know. My husband, Rob, would marvel at the close-knit nature of the island community, and attributed it to the fact that for the majority of us, the ferry is a regular 45 minute opportunity to engage with our neighbors, colleagues, and the many unique and diverse people who make this island work.

No matter where you land in life, it will be in an equally, wonderfully diverse community. I implore you to seek out those who don’t necessarily talk, think or look like you. Embrace them and learn from them, as it’s only through those authentic relationships that we can build mutual understanding to bridge a growing divide in our wonderfully diverse country and world.

And the final Ferry Life Lesson, #8: ENJOY THE RIDE! Life is an excellent adventure, and the Fishers Island Ferry has taught me, and hopefully all of you, to get off my iPad and step out of the cabin to fully realize that. On the ferry I witness spectacular sunrises and sunsets that literally take my breath away. I’ve seen the unexpected…a submarine with returning sailors standing at attention, a proud toddler learning to walk, an FIS teacher spontaneously tutoring students for an upcoming test, members of a high school basketball team from the American

School for the Deaf, excitedly signing to one another, and Fourth of July fireworks celebrating our country’s hard earned freedom.

Have you ever seen the photo of a guy on a whale watch who was so deeply engrossed in what was on his phone that he completely missed the whales who breached right in front of him? Please, dear graduates, don’t let that guy be you. You will find wellness and the balance you need in your life if you take time to disconnect from work, from technology, and from stress to enjoy the rich ride that is life itself.

In 1895, a man named Joshua Slocum became the first person to solo circumnavigate the globe. He tells us in his journal how he felt at the very start of the unfamiliar voyage he was taking to reach his goal. Captain Slocum wrote, “A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure, the meaning of which I thoroughly understood”.

From the very start, Joshua Slocum knew that he was fully prepared for his voyage. Graduates, you, too, are fully prepared for yours. You have the skills, values, and experiences you’ve learned at home, in school, and on the ferry to step lightly out of this auditorium and into your voyage as the captain of your life. To remind you of your readiness, Captain Burns, on behalf of the Ferry District, and I are gifting to you these red Fishers Island caps. At the Fishers Island Ferry District, these red caps have great significance, as ONLY captains own and wear them. Now, as the captains of your futures, you, too, are extended this privilege. Wear them proudly, knowing that you have what it takes to navigate life’s rocks and shoals to stay afloat and ride the beautiful waves of your many voyages through life.

Let’s now show our congratulations to our graduates and our appreciation to the teachers, staff, family and community members, friends, and ferry district team for expertly guiding these four young people to the successful completion of their high school career.

Karen Loiselle Goodwin, Superintendent
Fishers Island Union Free School District
June 21, 2019

With special appreciation to Mr. RJ Burns, Marine Operations Manager, Fishers Island Ferry District, for his review and guidance. 

Senior Closing Address from the Class of 2019

Nicholas Oickle: Some of you may not know this but this is actually the longest amount of time I have ever stayed in one school in my life, five years. I have moved around a few times in my life and I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many new people and experience new things. In addition to this however, I had the unique opportunity to reinvent myself when I went to a new place, and honestly I didn’t always like the person I would become. I would reinvent myself for the sake of others or to fit in.

Then I found Fishers Island and everything changed for me. I noticed something was different, more so than any of the schools I had previously attended. Although I had the opportunity to reinvent myself I didn’t have to, rather I was actually encouraged to do the opposite, and find out what it means to be myself.

One of the most important phrases throughout history is: Know thyself. It was inscribed on the Temple of Delphi and later restated by the philosopher Socrates. It is the single most important phrase in the struggle of human identity and I didn’t understand until I came to this school.

Now I don’t know much about public high school, I haven’t been to that many other public high schools, and I didn’t have time to visit them all before this speech, but I have heard that typically they do a pretty good job at teaching their subjects but there isn’t always an emphasis on life lessons and the real-world applications of those lessons.

Isabella Basile:  I think it’s funny how Nick and I came from completely different paths, but still ended up here, learning the same lesson. Unlike Niko, I came to Fishers after a solid 8 years in the same public school system. It was alright, but I wanted something more, a school where I could ask questions without slowing down the 30 other kids in the class, where teachers would know me as a person rather than a name on an attendance roster, where I could focus on actual learning instead of trying to fit in. I had a hunger for something more than what was being served to me.

From the first time I visited Fishers, I knew I had found something rare and beautiful, a hidden gem of a school community. Every one of my teachers is devoted to their subject and are always willing to provide me with help when I need it (and oh boy do I need it). Every one of my peers has their own unique personality coupled with forms of intelligence and whit that can only be formed in an environment where your individually isn’t trampled under your 100 other classmates. And every day for the last four years I got to be a part of something extraordinary, to come to school every day and not worry about where I bought my clothes or who I was “allowed” to sit next to at lunch, but rather say hello to everyone in the hallway and never be afraid to put my hand up.

As everyone knows, Charles Dickens once wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”. I believe that these words are possibly the best in terms of describing the universal teenage experience, but the great thing about this school is that you share those best of times with everyone around you, and no one lets you go through the worst of times alone.

Nicholas Oickle: We could not be more grateful for the people who have guided and supported us these last four years. First, we have to thank the parents for everything they have done to ensure that we could have the outstanding education we have received at this school. They work so hard so we can have this opportunity, so I’d like to take this moment to say thank you and give the parent’s a round of applause.

Isabella Basile: We would also like to thank our incredible administrators, who work so hard to keep this school running and provide us with a quality education. Let’s take this moment to give a round of applause for all the people who keep this school functioning.

Nicholas Oickle: And finally, we’d like to thank our amazing teachers who work hard to ensure that we become the best versions of ourselves. Not only do they teach their respective subjects superbly but I can say that every single teacher I have had at this school has taught me something about the real-world applications of their subject and how it affects the world as a whole. I would like to take this moment to give our fantastic educators a round of applause.

Isabella Basile: Congratulations class of 2019, We Did It!

Click any image to see a larger version.
Photo Credit: Jane T. Ahrens

Congratulations to Nik, Izzy, Nicholas, and Gabe and best wishes in the years to come.

Featured Photo

Beach Rocks sun gaze, 12/10/20 Photo by Richard Breining

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

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