A high school graduation gives seniors the chance to look back at their years in school and see just how much they have changed and grown. It also helps to cement their place in the history of the school.
Last Wednesday, Pilgrim High School’s graduation exercises featured a dose of school history as the Class of 2013 graduated during the school’s 50th anniversary.
Pilgrim seniors were the first to graduate on Wednesday, June 12, while Vets and Toll Gate ceremonies took place the next day. All ceremonies were held in CCRI’s Cullen Field House. Pilgrim graduates were reminded of the school’s heritage and how to learn from that. Vets seniors were told about all the opportunities they have in the future and Toll Gate’s Class of 2013 was given advice on how to make the present a better place.
Pilgrim Principal Marie Cote pointed out that in June 1963, 219 Patriots received their diplomas and in June 2013, 246 Patriots would do the same.
“15,000 proud Patriots share the history that you now share,” said Cote in opening remarks.
One of those Patriots is Mayor Scott Avedisian.
“Thirty years ago today, I was sitting out there where you are,” said Avedisian. The mayor joked that he had been trying to remember who spoke at his graduation and what they said, but he couldn’t. “So I will be brief.”
Avedisian said he felt quite a connection to the Class of 2013. Not only was his niece McKenzie Avedisian one of the graduates, but these students were in kindergarten when he took office.
“In a way, we have all grown up together,” said the mayor.
He recalled not only the class’ success on the playing field or in the classroom, but seeing them throughout the community. “I have known some of you since the day you were born.”
“You make this city proud. We do not need to look further than your faces to see what makes this city great,” continued Avedisian.
Looking forward, Avedisian expressed his hope that the class would continue to “do the right thing at the appropriate time.”
Pilgrim’s Class of 2013 showed that they do the right thing by honoring their classmate Elana Zuller, who passed away in a car crash at the start of the school year. Not only were Zuller’s parents and brother present at the ceremony, but the chair where Zuller would have sat was left open, adorned with purple and gold flowers, her favorite colors.
Cote shared the mayor’s hope that the Class of 2013 would continue to make use of their “moral compass.”
“Don’t forget to be kind,” said Cote. “But also, have a little fun.”
Valedictorian Natalie Tocco quoted her coach, wanting her classmates to appreciate every second of their lives.
“Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why they call it the present,” she said. “Do not let anything in life slip by you. Life is precious and should not be wasted.”
While Pilgrim’s commencement focused on the past, the future of the Warwick Veterans Class of 2013 was the theme of their graduation last Thursday.
Avedisian spoke again at Vets’ graduation, saying the graduates are an inspiring group of leaders.
“From the ‘green out’ to raise awareness of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the ‘pink out’ for breast cancer awareness, to mentoring elementary school students, to cleaning Oakland Beach, yours is a class filled with leaders,” said Avedisian. “You made sure the people of this city know that Vets students care about their community.”
Vets Principal Gerald Habershaw believes that these students are ready for the future with what they have learned in high school, and that they are prepared for the world ahead of them as they take the first step into their new lives.
“At Warwick Veterans, we urge our students to find out who they are and what they might want to do for a career path. We urge our students to set goals and to make sure that they are in the right classes and the right programs to achieve those goals.”
Superintendent Richard D’Agostino told the students to never give up on their dreams, and to always believe in themselves as they take the next step into their lives.
“May you take with you a positive attitude so you can achieve your goals,” he urged, reminding them that one person can make all the difference in the life of another, and that being nice is not something hard to do.
Karen Bachus, a member of the School Committee, chose to compare her past with the Class of 2013’s future. Having graduated in the 1980s, she gave the graduates a stark contrast between then and now. Then, AIDS had only been just discovered, and now gay marriage is accepted as the social norm. Then, America elected white actor Ronald Reagan to be president. Now, Barack Obama, the first African-American president, has succeeded in obtaining a second term in office.
“It’s amazing how far things have come in such a short time of 30 years,” she told them. “Today you begin a new period in your life. You have the choice to do whatever you want to do. Sometimes failure can lead to the greatest experiences. The only true failure is when you do not learn from that mistake. You are on the precipice of a new and exciting life,” said Bachus.
Johnathan Moore, the Class of 2013 salutatorian, is attending URI in the fall with an undecided major. He said that while he is uncertain about his future plans, he thinks that the graduates should be proud for making it this far, and that this is the time for them to embark upon their own paths.
“We’re ready to take on the world,” said valedictorian Olivia Roy.
She said that while nobody knows what the future will hold, she believes that her class is prepared to start a new chapter in their lives, all thanks to their experiences at Warwick Veterans.
Toll Gate’s Class of 2013 was urged to live for today, and to use their creativity and kindness to make a difference in the world tomorrow.
“Whether it’s choosing a new location for the senior prom, deciding on your class gift, or organizing school events, you are known for your creativity,” said Avedisian. “And, through your efforts to make all students – particularly incoming students – immediately feel they are part of the Toll Gate family, you have shown us all how to treat others compassionately and respectfully.”
Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz spoke about Vice Principal William Jutras, who is retiring this year. Jutras has spent his time at Toll Gate teaching students to become better people, and to always have hope.
“Dr. Jutras has been a role model to Toll Gate students. The day they came to his office might not always be their best day, but they could always do better tomorrow,” said Chrabaszcz.
School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado graduated from Toll Gate 31 years ago with the class of 1982, and was honored to speak to them Thursday night.
“I stand here before you humbled, appreciative and grateful,” she began, warning them that “being a grown up is not fun.”
Furtado took the chance to remind Toll Gate’s graduates to take the time to smell the flowers and enjoy the day, especially because our new world runs so much faster than before.
“Today it’s instant, immediate and global,” she said.
Nina Yu, Toll Gate’s valedictorian, related how she was proud of who she was, thanks to her parents. She thanked them for immigrating to America 20 years ago, and for sending her to advanced math classes on Saturday mornings when she was 10, even if she did hate it. These Saturday morning classes paid off, though, and next year she will be attending the United States Naval Academy. Yu received an appointment to the academy, which is the equivalent of a four-year full-tuition scholarship, and will serve in the United States Navy upon graduation.
“Too often we let pessimism pervade our hopes and dreams,” she said, wanting her classmates to never underestimate what they could do and to set high goals for the future as they strive for a better today.
One Toll Gate student whose graduation defines the theme of living for today is Domenic Paolella, who uses crutches to get around because of cerebral palsy.
“I always told him he put the word able into disabled,” said his mother Juanita Paolella, who was nearly in tears with pride, after the ceremony. “There is no greater pride than seeing him walk across the stage and realize how fast time has gone by.”
Domenic, who is called “The mayor” by other Toll Gate students, recognizes how great of an accomplishment he has achieved.
“I’m very blessed to be here today. Being a graduate feels terrific,” he said.
Warwick Schools’ Class of 2013 is a class with much potential for the future. Stepping away from their high school days, they have the opportunity to enrich the world today, so that we can all hope for an even greater tomorrow.