MOREHEAD CITY — The first students who entered the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School in August 2018 were referred to as trailblazers.

For the 46 members of the Class of 2023 at MaST, that trail has come to an end, not only for their high school career, but for the school itself, which is set to close at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Graduates tried to focus on the life-changing lessons they have learned at MaST during a bittersweet commencement exercise Thursday in the Crystal Coast Civic Center.

Following are members of the Class of 2023 at the Marine Science and Technologies Early Coll…

“Some say, trailblazers, some say survivors, and some may even call us outcasts, but we are resilient, we are fighters, we are advocates, we are MaST High School class of 2023,” graduate Ginger Hayden said. “We have withstood a global pandemic and become stronger. This school has taught us to be resilient and to advocate for ourselves and others, and if we stick together even in defeat, we are still winners in the lessons we have learned along the way. The memories we’ve made these past years will last us a lifetime, from proms at the garden center, winter and spring festivals, our yearbook, and everything in between. Do not forget the skills we have learned from being a student here at MaST, whether in the classroom, courtroom, boardroom or everyday life.”

Hayden further pointed out that her class experienced multiple turbulent changes during their high school career. During the five-year span of MaST, there were two hurricanes, a switch from a nonpartisan to a partisan Carteret County Board of Education, two community college presidents, five public school superintendent transitions (three superintendents and two interims), three principals, a carousel of teachers and support staff, two locations at Carteret Community College (CCC) and COVID-19.

Many of the seniors receiving high school diplomas had already netted associate degrees and trade certifications from CCC on May 13. The school, which has met on the CCC campus, offered students the chance to earn college and high school credits simultaneously. This was the second class to graduate from MaST, with 31 receiving diplomas and degrees last year.

Students and parents at the school have fought multiple battles to keep MaST open since one year into its start, including suing the County Board of Education. But the school board, in September 2022, voted 6-1 to close the school at the end of the 2023 academic year. Some board members gave a list of reasons for their action, including budget concerns, wanting the opportunities offered at MaST to be open to all high school students and the school not focusing enough on vocational trades. The board agreed to let last year’s juniors at the school complete their senior year at MaST prior to closing.

The only school board member who voted against closing MaST, Katie Statler, praised students for their perseverance in the face of adversity.

“I hope you remember you were brave, showed courage and remained strong,” Statler said to the graduates. “You linked arms with friends and fellow students who may have been strangers to you just a year or two previously. You stood together and showed what teamwork and collaboration can do.”

CCC President Dr. Tracy Mancini, who was an advocate for MaST, also addressed the graduates, complimenting them on their growth during their time at the school.

“Your experience here has been challenging, but look what you have done with it,” she said. “You have stretched to take advantage of every opportunity by participating in robotics competitions and state and national SkillsUSA events. Some of you have been state and national champions at SkillsUSA. You have been recognized for your college-level academic achievements by Phi Theta Kappa and other honor societies. You have learned skills that will help you find meaningful and lucrative work in our county and beyond. You have learned to speak out passionately for what you believe is right and good, and you have learned how to participate in civic discourse in appropriate, constructive ways.”

The keynote speaker, former MaST social studies teacher Alexander Bartolini, encouraged graduates to “Never forget where you came from. Never forget these friendships and these bonds. Never forget this faculty that believes in you. Never forget your home life and those who have supported you to this point.”

Graduate Claire Johnson challenged her fellow graduates to use their lessons to make a positive difference.

“We have accomplished so much together, and I am proud to be a part of this graduating class,” she said. “Each and every one of us has the potential to make a positive impact in the world, and I challenge us to use our talents and skills to create a better future for ourselves and those around us. As we stand on the threshold of a new chapter, we must carry with us the lessons and values we have learned. Let us embrace the power of resilience, for it is in the face of adversity that we discover our true strength.”

Graduate Jennifer LaraTorres, who graduated first in her class, thanked all those who have supported graduates on their unique journey through high school.

“Today we celebrate our achievements and express our gratitude to those who have helped us along the way,” she said. “Our teachers, mentors, family and friends have served as our guiding lights. They believed in us even when we doubted ourselves and pushed us to reach our full potential. It’s time to embrace the future that awaits us. We are at the start of a world with endless possibilities. Our journey does not end here. It is just beginning.”

MaST Principal Joe Poletti congratulated graduates on their grit to pursue a nontraditional education.

 “The 2023 graduating class of Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School will be the second and final graduating class of an alternative education model that existed for only five years,” he said. “As the doors close on May 25, 2023, I dedicate and offer this book (his new published book, “myHIghSchool REIMAGINED”) to all MaST graduates who dared to reimagine high school. May it help you understand the backdrop and broad educational circumstances in play at the time. Your participation in the school has served your futures well. May it also serve the greater good by being building blocks for subsequent models of personalized learning and innovation sustainability. No matter your path, you are the best builders of tomorrow.”

Poletti, former West Carteret High School (WCHS) principal, started at MaST this year, switching with former MaST Principal Cory Johnson, who became principal of WCHS. Poletti is retiring at the end of this school year.

Both Poletti and Johnson, plus the school’s first principal, Dee Rosen, assisted with the presentation of diplomas during the ceremony.

Another highlight during commencement was the performance of the song, “I Hope You Dance,” by senior Sarah Gale Riggs, accompanied by Poletti on acoustic guitar. In addition, graduate Jenna Hewes sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”

MaST parents, including Eugene Thompson, who had twins graduating, said he was grateful that his children were able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded at the school but was disappointed it was closing.

“I’m proud of the achievements they have made, I’m just sorry they had to go through so much turmoil of the fight for their school,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand the strain these students endured. In the end, the (County) Board of Education decided to go another direction, but I hope in the future this school can come back for the kids so they can have the opportunities my daughters have had.”


Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

(2) comments


An immensely proud yet bittersweet moment is quickly coming to an end. Beginning as an idea and continuing as an experiment, MaST, by all accounts, was a success that exceeded expectations. Graduates will now continue along the path of life knowing that MaST is, and always will be, a part of their educational history. Students, parents, relatives and friends are now either in, or connected to a unique group forever. Congratulations!


Yes, congratulations!

Maybe someone should have started a Go Fund Me account.

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