On A Tiny Island, Comedian Delivers A Graduation Speech For One

Jun 18, 2019
Originally published on June 18, 2019 8:08 pm

When Gwen Lynch graduated 8th grade from Cuttyhunk Elementary on Monday, she was the only one. Cuttyhunk is a tiny island — the last of a chain of about 10 small islands southeast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The school, the only one on the island, is comprised of one room and Lynch was its only student.

Lynch says a lot of people might think it would be cool to go to school on an island that's only a mile long.

"I don't think they understand how, like, quiet it is and how boring it is," she says. "It's maybe like a great place to do maybe a month or six weeks. But it's just so, it really is lonely."

Lynch's dad Duane graduated from Cuttyhunk Elementary school 35 years ago, and her brother Carter was at the school with her last year. There's no other school on the island and he's now at a boarding school in Rhode Island.

Gwen's mom, Lexi Lynch, says while her daughter missed out on some social things, like school dances and parties, she also dodged some of the hard middle school transitions.

"I am so glad she missed out on a lot of the drama," she says.

On Monday, more than 100 neighbors and friends packed into the island's small church to cheer on Lynch's graduation. The commencement speaker was someone Gwen Lynch met just last week. Actress and comedian Jenny Slate, whose boyfriend runs a writing workshop on the island.

"I started to realize that you, who go to school by yourself on an island that is basically empty half the year, are still way cooler and more popular than I was as a teenager, who lived in a town and went to a school with lots of other people," Slate said in her speech.

Slate also spoke directly to Lynch about her aspirations. The graduate says she wants to be an engineer, and Slate admires her ambition to invent things that change the world.

Your no-frills confidence is pure and powerful. - Jenny Slate

"I hope you keep saying what you want to achieve and that you want to put your very own name on it," Slate said. There is no shame in wanting to be recognized for your good work. Your no-frills confidence is pure and powerful."

"You told me that you were good at sailing and that you don't much like being told what to do on the boat because you know what to do." she said. "I told myself that I wish that I spoke so clearly about my own strengths."

As the school's last full-time student, 13-year-old Gwen Lynch is now preparing for her next adventure. She'll be attending 9th grade in the fall at a boarding school in New Hampshire.

In her speech, Slate also said Lynch also told her that she felt her graduation is "both the start of something big ... and the end of something that is important for the community."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As graduation season wrap up, let's listen to part of an unusual ceremony. It happened on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts. Hayley Fager of member station WCAI in Woods Hole was there.

HAYLEY FAGER, BYLINE: Southeast of Cape Cod is a chain of about 10 small islands, the last of which is Cuttyhunk. Gwen Lynch has been going to school on that island. In fact, she was the only student in the one-room public school. And yesterday, she graduated eighth grade.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL TOLLING)

FAGER: Lynch says a lot of people might think it would be cool to go to a school on an island that's only a mile long.

GWEN LYNCH: I don't think they understand how, like, quiet it is and how boring it is. It's maybe, like, a great place to do, like, maybe a month or six weeks, but it's just so - it really is lonely.

FAGER: Lynch's dad Duane graduated from Cuttyhunk Elementary School 35 years ago. And her brother Carter was at the school with her last year. There's no other school on Cuttyhunk, and he's now at a boarding school in Rhode Island. Lexi Lynch is Gwen's mom and says while her daughter missed out on some social things, like school dances and parties, she also dodged some of the hard middle-school transitions.

GWEN: I'm so glad she missed out on a lot of the drama.

FAGER: Yesterday, more than a hundred neighbors and friends packed into the island's small church to cheer on Lynch's graduation. The commencement speaker was someone Gwen Lynch met just last week - actress and comedian Jenny Slate, whose boyfriend runs a writing workshop on the island.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNY SLATE: I started to realize that you, who go to school by yourself on an island that is, basically, empty half the year, are still way cooler and more popular than I was as a teenager...

(LAUGHTER)

SLATE: ...Who lived in a town and went to a school with lots of other people.

FAGER: When you're in a graduating class of one, you get a lot of attention. And Slate spoke directly to Lynch about her aspirations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SLATE: You told me that you are good at sailing and that you don't much like being told what to do on the boat because you know what to do.

(LAUGHTER)

SLATE: I told myself that I wish that I spoke so clearly about my own strengths.

FAGER: As the school's last full-time student, 13-year-old Gwen Lynch is now preparing for her next adventure. She'll be attending ninth grade in the fall at a boarding school in New Hampshire.

(APPLAUSE)

FAGER: For NPR News, I'm Hayley Fager on Cuttyhunk Island. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.