NORTHPORT — In a few months, the scene will play out, as it has for decades, in college dorm rooms across the country.

“So where are you from?” one student asks her roommate.

“Maine. North Haven.” Or maybe it’s Chebeague or Swan’s or Isle au Haut.

Once the student explains that she did indeed grow up on and maybe even completed all 12 years of school on an island, an identity is sealed.

“People are somewhat in awe of where you are from,” is how Rob Snyder, president-elect of the Island Institute put it on Saturday, June 1, at a luncheon honoring the 74 island students receiving Institute college scholarships at the Point Lookout conference center.

“People will be taken by you throughout your life, because of where you’re from,” he told the students.

But more than being a conversationstarter, this island identity carries with it some weight, and maybe even some responsibility, Snyder said.

“People need to understand what allows you to succeed and your communities to succeed,” he said. Island students are “ambassadors” for the principles that keep island communities vital against great odds, Snyder said, and that is ultimately what those students “will bring to the world.”

The scholarships are part of what helps those island students succeed. Since the Island Scholars program was launched in 1990, $1.1 million in funds has been distributed through more than 870 scholarship awards. This year, the 74 recipients received $160,000.


College, that first big step away from home, can be daunting enough. Leaving the often insular world of an island can make it downright frightening. Two Vinalhaven students, brother and sister Willie and Eliza “Izza” Drury, shared their experiences of life after high school at the scholarship luncheon.

Just a year apart in age, they shared a group of friends on the island and often shared adventures, they said, as they alternated telling their story at the podium.

Izza, a straight-A student and varsity athlete in high school, recalled the stressful college application process, culminating in a rejection from her first-choice school. But she did win acceptance at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, R.I.

Excited to be there, she threw herself into extra-curricular activities such as one of Brown’s a cappella groups, this one specializing in sea chanteys, called “ARRR!!!” She tried out for the soccer team, expecting to make it easily, but did not, and so joined the ultimate Frisbee team instead.

Looking back on that first semester, Iza concluded she had overcommitted herself.

Willie made a very different choice; college wasn’t his next stop.

“I knew that it was something I wanted to do eventually,” but after 18 years on an island, I wanted to stretch my legs and see the world,” he said. “I’d been cooped up too long.”

Willie chose instead as his “gap year” experience a trip to the Australian outback, where he planned to work work on a cattle ranch. After a couple of weeks at the ranch, however,  enduring the rancher’s disdain for foreigners, he left for the coast, renting an apartment with some friends.

Sure, he admitted, there was lots of fun and adventures—skydiving and surfing—but there also were long, hot hours working in a restaurant kitchen.

This fall, Willie will enter the University of New England, now ready to train for a career.

So what did this brother and sister duo learn from their first years post-high school?

“There is no one right way,” Willie said. “There is no perfect school,” Izza said.

And, a truth endorsed by both: “There are always people who will help you through these choices.”

The 74 students at the luncheon who will embark as island ambassadors, as Snyder suggested, will land at colleges around the country, from institutions as close as the University of Maine in Orono and as far away as the University of Denver.