Graduate’s message in a bottle from the Outer Banks washes ashore in Portugal

Every summer, high school English teacher Charles Temple takes the tiny graduating class of the Ocracoke School on a boat ride with a local charter captain.

The students write messages on their graduation program, put them in a bottle and toss them into the Gulf Stream offshore. In five years of repeating the tradition with the Outer Banks school’s seniors, the bottles have never turned up — until Dec. 17, when one was found more than 3,600 miles away.

The “message” was a graduation announcement with the smiling faces of the Ocracoke School’s eight graduates.

Handwritten across the top was the message: “Launched into the Gulf Stream — July 26, 2020.” It’s not the most exciting message in a bottle that one could find, but it did travel across an entire ocean.

More than two years later, Portugal resident Elena Bretan posted this week on Facebook — pinging the Ocracoke School’s Facebook page in the process — that she found the bottle in Setúbal, a fishing village on the European country’s Atlantic coast.

She included a photo of the message, noted how far the bottle had traveled and had some kind words for the graduates: “Good luck everyone.”

The school’s Facebook page responded with the expected level of excitement. “Oh my goodness! Thank you for sharing this with us. Amazing.”

Bretan didn’t immediately return a request for comment, but posted in Facebook comments that “we were very glad to have found this message across the Atlantic Ocean.”

The smiling faces on the program endured much more than most high school seniors, even their fellow pandemic-era graduates. On Sept. 6, 2019, Hurricane Dorian swept across Ocracoke before making landfall on Hatteras Island. A 7-foot storm surge flooded the tiny town, destroying dozens of homes and businesses, including the Ocracoke School.

Students didn’t return to class after Dorian until early October, and their classrooms were in borrowed buildings around Ocracoke Village. Then COVID-19 hit, and all classes went virtual.

“They had to grow up fast,” Temple said

The 2020 graduation ceremony was held in a National Park Service parking lot, with families and neighbors watching from cars or golf carts.

Temple said the bottle that turned up in Portugal belonged to 2020 Ocracoke School graduate Alan Doshier, whose father Ernest Doshier is the charter boat captain who takes the graduating seniors out on his boat, Gecko, each year.

Alan Doshier, though, probably hasn’t heard his message was found.

“Last I heard he’s working on a fishing boat in the Bahamas,” Temple said.

Kari Pugh,