With ceremonies Tuesday and Wednesday at the Knight Campus of CCRI, Warwick high school graduations came to a close and a new chapter in the lives of more than 700 young people opened.
But before looking ahead and to such challenges as finding a job or funding a higher education, many students savored the moment and their years in high school.
The diversified classes of the city’s three public high schools identified themselves as such: melting pots of academics, artists and athletes who have grown-up together in an increasingly technological age. And in their speeches the students said they tackled their years in high school with force, facing tragedy, happiness, triumphs and failures. Their pride in themselves, as well as the respect they have earned from their teachers, parents and local dignitaries, was evident at each ceremony.
Toll Gate held their graduation Tuesday, and Pilgrim and Warwick Vets followed yesterday. Combined, the three schools awarded diplomas to approximately 707.
Toll Gate awarded 225 diplomas at the school’s 39th commencement. Minutes prior to the ceremony, Megan Gresens and Kyle Smith, who classmates voted as class clowns, shared a few laughs.
“I want to give a shout out to Mrs. [Cheryl] Paquet,” said Gresens, who will begin taking Special Education courses at CCRI in September. “I’m sorry for messing up your classes.”
Gresens said she is looking forward to “new experiences” in college, as is Smith, who will study communications at Quinnipiac. He said he cannot wait to “meet new people,” but will also “miss friends I see every day.”
Couple Andrew McPhillips and Tiana Briganti said even though college will separate them, as he will attend Castleton State College in Vermont and she is staying in Rhode Island and going to CCRI, they plan to remain exclusive.
“We were prom king and queen,” Briganti said and gave her boyfriend a kiss.
McPhillips said he is pleased he participated in multiple activities during his senior year, including the talent show, and the Dancing with the Stars event.
“I did all the fun stuff,” he said. “I’m going to miss high school.”
At the ceremony, Victoria Walker, beautifully sang Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She will head to Wheaton College in the fall to study international relations and said she is looking forward to “getting into studies that I have a passion about. I’ll miss the great friends I’ve made.”
Valedictorian Amy St. Amand, who will be taking up Pharmaceutical studies at the University of Rhode Island, thanked her parents and teachers for providing her with strength and encouragement in her speech. She also told graduates, as well as her closest friends, “I have seen the tremendous support my classmates have for one another, always cheering on the successes of their fellow students. It is a spirit of cooperation that is unique to the class of 2011.”
Salutatorian Samantha Chace will be off to Columbia University in New York to major in Political Science. She reminded students not to falter in the face of setbacks, no matter how devastating they may be.
“Be passionate, make a change, and find your ‘open door,’” she said. Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz said he was “truly humbled” to have known the students for the last four years. He encouraged them to eagerly explore their interests in the future.
“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can make a brand new ending,” he said. “As you enter college, the military, or the workforce, take the experiences you’ve had at Toll Gate and begin to write the rest of your life.”
School Superintendent Peter Horoschak advised graduates not to aim to be “better than your predecessors or contemporaries; be better than yourself.”
Beth Furtado, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, also spoke, and was proud that her son, Zachary, was a part of the class of 2011. A Toll Gate graduate, she briefly addressed the crowd, as she did not want to risk getting emotional on stage.
“I told the mayor I’d buy him lunch if I cried, so I’m not going to [cry],” she said.
As he typically does at high school graduations, Mayor Scott Avedisian made musical references to encourage and inspire graduates. By quoting a Coldplay song, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” he illustrated the importance of remaining resilient when battling challenges.
“Those who [are] successful [are] those who were undaunted by obstacles in front of them – who sang the rebel song beneath the rubble – who were determined that they and their peers would leave the world a little better than they found it.”
At 3 p.m. yesterday, the 247 members of Pilgrim’s class of 2011 donned their caps and gowns and prepared to accept their diplomas. Family and friends made their way into the Field House, escaping the late afternoon sun and warmth.
As they waited to process into the Field House, the class of 2011 buzzed with anticipation.
“It’s exciting that all of our hard work has finally paid off,” said senior Kayla Nunes, who will be matriculating to Flagler in the fall.
Patty Gillis, mother of Pilgrim senior Stefanie Gannon, jumped up and down waving her arms inside the Field House.
“This is wonderful,” she said of the graduation. “I graduated from CCRI eight years ago, so I’m very excited.”
Gillis said her daughter plans to become an X-ray technician, studying at CCRI.
Principal Dennis Mullen called the class of 2011 “highly spirited.”
“They’re extremely diversified,” he said. “Not only are they athletic, but they’re academically gifted. They were a very close-knit group of young people.”
Mullen invited the principals from the Pilgrim feeder schools to process during the graduation.
“The kids get to see all the people they’ve grown up with,” he said.
Sarah Corley, the Pilgrim Valedictorian who will attend Providence College in the fall, opened her speech with a congratulatory nod to Mullen for being named High School Principal of the Year.
She continued by quoting Shakespeare, “‘There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so,’” she said. “Our high school years happened. How we perceived them is how we will remember them. I choose to think about my years at Pilgrim as good ones.”
Though Corley’s speech was mostly positive and upbeat, she took a moment to remember Kim Pisaturo, who tragically died two years ago.
“We have been through sad times as well as good,” she said. “We will always remember Kim Pisaturo who was so tragically taken from us…I think it is important to remember how we banded together as a group and a community in those difficult times.”
The graduation program booklet featured a quote from Pisaturo’s posthumously published novel, “Crimson Shards.”
In it, she wrote, “Not being able to see what was in front of him made him feel like something was there,” an appropriate sentiment for the graduates, whose futures hold endless possibilities.
Corley urged her classmates to not only reminisce about their times together at Pilgrim, but to look forward to the rest of their lives.
“I want us all to dream and then try our hardest to make those dreams reality,” she said.
Mayor Avedisian addressed the class, using lyrics from a Black Eyed Peas song to encourage the students to overcome their obstacles and celebrate their diversity.
“Every generation faces unique challenges and situations, and yours is no different,” he said. “Yours is a generation growing up in a time with unprecedented opportunities to foster great tolerance among others. To realize that diversity is something to celebrate…to nurture the bonds that tie us, as humans, together.”
Avedisian referenced the work that the class of 2011 has done over their four years at Pilgrim, and the lessons they have learned about acceptance, respect and compassion along the way.
“There are many people in the world who have not yet learned these lessons. You have extraordinary adventures awaiting you,” he said.
Later in the evening at the Warwick Veterans High School graduation, Principal Gerry Habershaw welcomed the faculty, dignitaries, families and friends in to the Knight Campus Field House. He then addressed his 235 graduating seniors.
“When I think of the graduating class of 2011, I think about positive personal relationships that I have developed with so many kids in this group,” he said.
He went on to talk about their accomplishments, saying, “I can state for a fact that we are graduating an outstanding group of students.”
He gave them a piece of real-world advice, telling them to find jobs that they love, because sooner than later, they’ll be working full-time, for at least 35 years.
“Find a career you truly love, or those 35 years will be torture,” he said. “I am fortunate. I truly love my job.”
He ended his speech with his traditional, touching sentiment.
“Every year, I end my graduation speeches the same way and I mean it every time I say it. For the class of 2011, I truly, truly mean it: I love you all. Thank you.”
Warwick Vet’s Valedictorian, Alexandrea Defreitas, who will be attending Brown University in the fall, also addressed her peers.
She began with a “thank you” to her parents and family, citing them as her inspiration to succeed.
She then went on to say that she wouldn’t bog her speech down with lots of cliché quotes, or attacks on any of the faculty or student body.
“But above all, I’m not going to try and be someone who I’m not. And I’m not really good at coloring inside the lines, so bear with me here,” she said. “But I think this is fitting, because you are not a very typical graduating class either. Last year’s class was incredibly smart. And the year before that was very artistic and musical. And the seniors who graduated when we were freshmen were some of the best athletes I’ve ever seen! But us? Yeah…us. We’re just awesome.”
She went on to call her classmates “survivors” of a handful of apocalyptic scares, the swine flew and “The Rapture.” In the face of challenges, she said, her class managed to succeed.
She then referenced a Kurt Vonnegut quote, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” She urged her classmates to live their lives fully and fearlessly and recognize the beauty that surrounds them daily.
“I haven’t lived for very long, but I am certain of one thing: No matter what you do today, the sun will still shine in the morning. The planets will still turn and the clouds will go on flying,” she said. “There is nothing that you can do that would ever stop Earth’s beating. So just ride.”
Mayor Avedisian, who normally uses lyrics from songs to congratulate and encourage the students he addresses, took a different approach at the Vets graduation.
“I normally use music to convey some words of wisdom,” he said. “I think I sometimes use today’s music to hide the fact that I am as old as I am. But today I want to really talk about how old I am as a way to impart a different bit of information.”
Avedisian went on to explain that when he ran for mayor 11 and a half years ago, the class of 2011 was in first grade.
“In a sense, that means we’ve grown up together,” he said.
He took a moment to mention names of students who he has watched grow over the years, but then paused to highlight one student in particular: Diana Picozzi. He told of her achievements at the Park School, and her confidence to approach the mayor at a young age and ask for his involvement at her school.
“She, like all of you, learned that one voice can be heard and can have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on others. Your class has been one that has been unafraid to speak up,” he said. “As you go forward, do not let your voices be silenced.”
He looked around the crowded room and encouraged the “beautiful young women and men” to thank their parents, and enjoy the celebrations of the day.
“Eleven and a half years later, I have nothing but gray hair,” laughed Avedisian. “Since we’ve taken such a journey together, let me wish each and every one of you every possible success as you embark on the next phase of your life.”
With a flurry of caps in the air, Warwick has seen another three senior classes walk proudly across the stage to receive their diplomas. As they go on to college, the workforce or the military, they will leave a legacy behind as the rising seniors, the class of 2012, eagerly take their place.