By Peter Vankevich
Every year thousands of high school graduates around the country get together for class reunions to hash over old times, often on the commemorative years, 10, 25 and even for the few, 50 years.
Ocracoke School has a yearly reunion, but what separates it from the others is that this yearly spring event is for all graduates from the school.
Unlike last year’s large class with 17 graduates, many class sizes have been more like this year which will graduate six students on June 10.
That’s because Ocracoke School, with grades pre-K to 12 all in one building, has around 180 students each year in the entire student body. Ocracoke School class sizes are teachers’ dreams as many classes have fewer than 20 students with some under 10 students.
The annual get-together, organized by the Ocracoke Alumni Association, attracts those who live on the island and those living elsewhere. This year approximately 50 attended the reunion in the Community Center, catered by Jason Wells.
Traditions of Ocracoke’s reunion include inducting this year’s graduating class into the Alumni Association, awarding a scholarship to one of this year’s graduates and bestowing the Distinguished Citizen Award honoring one alumni.
New inductees are Salutatorian Liam Caswell, Darvin Contreras, Grant Jackson, Valedictorian Mac Kalna, Lupita Martinez and Iris Trejo. Caswell received the scholarship.
In addition to being an honor roll student and the class salutatorian, Caswell, a future school Wall of Famer, had many outstanding basketball achievements and awards while playing for the school’s Dolphins.
This year he averaged 23 points per game and led the varsity boys basketball team to a historic second round in the state championship playoffs for the first time in the school’s history. He received a scholarship to Bridgewater College in Virginia where he will play basketball for the Eagles.
Trudy Austin was awarded the 2018 Distinguished Citizen Award.
Lena Austin O’Neal, class of 1994, who is on the awards committee explained the selection process.
“A theme of service and a desire to hold true to the things that make Ocracoke special began to emerge,” she said.
A graduate of the class of 1982, Austin has lived her entire life on Ocracoke. Her first job was at the Trolley Stop where she worked for Al Scarborough, who taught her how to make a fast breakfast.
She moved on to the Community Store where she worked for 22 years alongside David Senseney, Danny Garrish, Mable Gaskins, Ricky Tillett and Dale Mutro.
When the Community Store closed, she began her career at the Variety Store where she continues to work.
“With a smile her face and a kind word or funny story to tell, this year’s recipient has had a quiet but lasting impact on the Ocracoke community,” O’Neal noted. “Her level-headed demeanor and sensible, caring nature have served her well in her various volunteer positions.”
Austin’s volunteer work has covered just about every corner of the island community, from handing out hot dogs at many PTA events, serving on councils of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church and for many years on the Board of Elections.
“Perhaps her most important post is on the Occupancy Tax Board where she has served for the last 14 years, making sure that Ocracoke organizations, events and projects get the supplemental funding they need to be successful,” O’Neal.
This year, Austin is a charter board member of the newly-formed Ocracoke Decoy Carvers Guild that successfully sponsored the first Ocracoke Island Waterfowl Festival April 21, which will be annual event.
Austin is also a professional photographer covering weddings, proms, school events, the long-running Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament and island scenes and nature.
“Simple pleasures are most important to Trudy–a love for painting, cutting grass and taking care of her family,” O’Neal said.