319 Falcons spread their wings

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On Saturday, June 9, the school community of Cranston High School West gathered to celebrate the graduation ceremonies of its 56th graduating class. The Providence Performing Arts Center was alive with excitement as more than 300 students, their families and their friends listened to the speakers pass along words of wisdom and watched as each student made the final walk up the ramp and across the stage to receive their diploma, a result of four years of hard work, new experiences and very possibly, some tears both for the students and their parents, along the way.

As the students filed in, accompanied by West choir teacher Philip Lachance, Student Council President Charles Pisaturo III and Class President, Carrie Manassian carried in this year’s class banner, created by senior Kristina Faiola, who will be attending Johnson and Wales University in the fall. The Cranston West senior choir members performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” and Pisaturo led the salute to the flag.

Principal Thomas Barbieri welcomed guests and recognized the many distinguished guests both on the stage and present in the audience, faculty, staff, administrative team members and class advisors Allison Picozzi and Michelle Royal. He also recognized those members of the Cranston High School West faculty who are retiring at the conclusion of the school year, Science Department Chair Steve Krous, school secretary Marleany Bergantino and foreman Joe Boutin. Assistant Principal Cheryl Anderson was recognized as well, and will be principal at Park View Middle School next year.

Mayor Allan Fung addressed the students, bringing greetings from the city. He spoke to the students lifetime of incredible change in society. “When I was a kid, hard to imagine, over 40 years ago, I saw the original ‘Star Wars’ at the old Park Theatre, and I’ve had Jedi fever ever since. Back in the day, the big star in ‘Star Wars’ was Luke Skywalker,” he said. “But let’s take a look at the new ‘Star Wars’ movies. In ‘The Force Awakens,’ who is the lead hero in the story? Rey, a young woman and gearhead with no parents who carved an independent existence for herself on the desolate junkyard planet Jakku before being swept up into her Jedi adventure. This subtle change speaks volumes of how times have changed, and when we look at Rey, we see a fully formed character with a strong will and incredible determination, not just to live another day, but to do what’s right.”

Fung told the students that they too, will face tough decisions and might not be sure which way to go. He told them to be brave like Rey, and trust their instincts as she did. “Be good to the people you trust, and they will be there for you when it’s time to battle,” he said. “And remember, that ultimately, your fate is in your hands. May the force be with you and congratulations Class of 2018.”

School committee chairwoman Janice Ruggieri brought greetings on behalf of the Cranston School Committee. She also spoke to the students about growing up in an age of technology.

“It is funny to think how much has changed just in the time since you guys were young. House phones are not common anymore, cable TV is going away, newspapers and books are mostly read electronically, and people don’t really talk on the phone anymore,” she said. “Even social media changes quickly. By the time I figure out how to use a new one, you guys are already done with it and have moved on. When I was a kid, we would leave the house in the morning and come home when the streetlights went on, and nobody knew where we were all day long. Now you guys can’t help letting people know where you are, you give yourselves away.”

Ruggieri told the audience a story from her own young adulthood when she told her parents she was sleeping at a friend’s house, but actually went away to New Orleans for the weekend instead.

“They never knew, because they couldn’t get in touch with me, and there was no social media where my pictures might show up,” she said. “As a parent I am now horrified that I did that, but it was fun. Technology has exposed you all to so many things earlier than we were exposed to them. News happens in an instant and moves on just as quickly. It has made us all a little desensitized. You have grown up in a world where people do not think before they Tweet and someone is always watching and probably taking a picture or a video. There are consequences to your actions, and people forget that. We have recently seen people learning that lesson the hard way.”

Ruggieri encouraged the students to put their phones away and to be with the humans, to make sure their lives are not being lived through filters and to have friends that they can rely on during good times and bad. She reminded them to ask for help when needed and to remember that in today’s world, once something is out there it doesn’t go away.

“Make sure what you put out there shows you in the best light. Don’t write anything down that you would not say directly to someone, do not stand by and take videos of fights, step in and stop them. Be smart about what you give away of yourself and who you give it to,” she said.

She left the students with advice for their journey that she herself had read and enjoyed.

“Live like a tree: stand tall and proud, go out on a limb, remember your roots, drink plenty of water, be content with your natural beauty, and enjoy the view.”

Superintendent of Schools, Jeannine Nota-Masse addressed the students next, passing along powerful advice to them in her speech.

“As you walk off the stage today, diploma in had, realize the power you have over your destiny,” she said. “I’m sure many adults sitting her today wish they could go back in time to this moment or a similar moment in their lives, when their destiny lay before them. You are living the most exciting time of your lives, the potential for each of you is tremendous.” She encouraged them to take time to bask in the glory of their graduation day while remembering a few words of advice, gained from her years of experience beyond high school.

“As scary or intimidating as it may be, learn how to shake peoples’ hands, look them in the eye and speak clearly. You will have to convince strangers to hire you for a job, give you a loan, donate money to a worthy cause, or maybe in a few years you will ask the love of your life to marry you. These skills are critical if you want a ‘yes’ response,” she said. “Don’t be a fixer. Accept people for who and what they are, or move on. Don’t expect people to change because you want them to or hope they will. None of us is perfect. Find those friends who will make a positive impact in your life, not those who will make you miserable.”

She also addressed the recent tragedies that the students have seen in their lifetimes.

“Don’t live in fear. Over the past few years, we have experienced horrific tragedies taking place in our schools, on our streets, in restaurants, movie theaters, and even in places of worship. The world is changing quickly and you have witnessed enough senseless tragedies already, but look at what you and your peers have done with this situation,” she said. “You have formed conscientious protests, spoken up, spoken out, and said ‘no more,’ and promised to live lives that would be the ones to make the difference. These are truly scary events that make us question the direction of our humanity.” She quoted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as she closed.

“As cliche as it sounds, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, ‘So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Live life to the fullest, and don’t succumb to fear.”

After a performance from the Cranston High School West Concert Choir, under the direction of LaChance, Principal Barbieri introduced Class President, Carrie Minassian. Minassian spoke of the bonds that have been forged throughout the past four years of high school.

“Together we conquered it all, driver’s ed, the dreaded SAT, the even more dreaded Common App, we even saw our football team finally win a Thanksgiving game.”

She spoke of one of her most impactful moments of her senior year, the memorial held for the victims of school violence, and she noted that for others their impactful moments may have been different. Minassian also spoke to the impact of technology on their lives.

“It is my most ardent hope that all 320 of us will stay connected throughout our respected endeavors, whether in college, in our careers, or beyond. With the access that new technology provides to social networks and the like, it’s been made possible.” She, like Superintendent Nota-Masse, spoke to the important things that can’t be done through technology.

“What I can’t do with this handheld device is look you in they eye. I can’t shake your hand. I can’t give you a warm embrace, or share a laugh. Although there are endless emojis to choose from, it is still impossible to convey my feelings without them being skewed,” she said. “So yes, technology has afforded us vast opportunities and little conveniences, but what it’s replaced is true authenticity.”

She encouraged her classmates to blossom, to flourish, to not be afraid, and to remember to slow down and enjoy change. She reminded them to remember their roots, including their school, families and friends. She closed with mention of one of the school’s popular mottos.

“Even though we will all go our separate ways, we must remember that falcons fly together.”

Barbieri introduced Madison Shapiro, the class Salutatorian, who achieved 5.03 cumulative grade point average. She will be attending the University of Pittsburgh Honors College in the fall and will be studying Neuroscience on the pre-med track.

Shapiro brought the students back to that very first day of school, 13 years prior, and reminded them of all of the subsequent first days to follow. She reminded them specifically of their first day of school at Cranston West, freshman year, and the feeling she had when she took that first never-ending walk from her brother’s car, across campus, and into the main building. She likened that long, never-ending walk, to life’s journeys.

“Little did I know, that this feeling would perfectly encompass my whole high school career,” she said. “One. Long. Walk.”

Shapiro flashed through the feelings that each school year brought, the adjustments of freshman year, the ‘in limbo’ feeling of sophomore year, the ever-frequent stops on the journey of junior year for SATs, ACTs, AP exams and NECAPS, and for college tours.

“Then, all of a sudden, we reached the end of our walk, the finish line, the clearing in the woods,” she said. “We were done. We had sprinted to that finish line without realizing how fast we were going. Portfolio was done, everyone had made their decisions about their plans after graduation, and suddenly we were sitting in rehearsals. Our walk had ended and we could finally take our seats here at PPAC, but let me tell you something, we are not done yet.” She reminded the students that it was those very stops along the way that made her who she had become and that she had also found those who could walk that journey along with her as she prepared for the next part of her walk.

“I’ve learned that the walk I’ve been on throughout high school is not necessarily my most important walk, rather it was the training I needed for the marathon that would be the rest of my life,” she said. “High school is not the end but rather the step we need to go through to make sure we’re ready, so I hope that everyone took their training seriously, because taking the easy way out only leads to mistakes when you run the actual marathon of life.”

As she concluded, she encouraged her peers not to let their high school walks be the ones that defined them, but rather the one which pushed them to success beyond high school.

Barbieri then introduced the class Valedictorian, Scott Angilly, who received a 5.14 cumulative grade point average, the second highest grade point average earned at Cranston West in the past decade. Angilly was accepted early decision to Brown University and will be attending in the fall, majoring in Biochemistry.

Angilly thanked his friends, family and support system (Quizlet, Wikipedia and EasyBib) for helping him get through high school, and quoted famed biologist, West’s retiring Steven Krous, who said, “Time is a nonrenewable resource,” and promised to keep his speech brief.

He stated that he felt that as a class, they had begun at the bottom of their lives, whether in terms of maturity, knowledge or understanding of the world around them. “While freshman year feels like it was only a short time ago, it also feels like it took place in a completely different lifetime,” Angilly said. “So much has changed over these past four years. Just four years ago, we were the smaller birds being swallowed up by a swarm of upperclassmen Falcons. Well, fellow graduates, we have moved up the food chain.”

He spoke to the times and events that passed as the students moved through their four years, from being the freshmen who were told to go home at the pep rally, to being the ones who chanted it in the years to come.

“We became the presidents, the captains and the leaders of the school. We became the group

That one thousand underclassmen looked up to,” he said. “As I stand before you on graduation day, I can certainly say that our class has started from the bottom, and now our whole team is here.”

As he concluded, he encouraged his classmates to have no regrets and to take every chance that comes their way, no matter where life leads them beyond high school.

“To me, the most important factor to my own success during high school was not only learning to become my own person, but being comfortable with who I have become,” he said. “I firmly believe in being yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and believe that who you are is good enough.”

Angilly reminded that they are the future leaders of society.

“Each and every one of us have the chance to contribute something unique to society,” he said. “The class of 2018 is going to change the future, Graduates, you are the future leaders of our society. Reach for the stars. I mean, so what if you fall? What’s the worst that can happen, you land on a cloud? Remember, starting from the bottom only means you design your climb up to the top. The sky is not the limit, it is only the beginning. Lift off.”

Following the student addresses, Principal Barbieri named this year’s Ideal Cranstonian awardees, Heather DiFazio and Sara Lancellotta, who excelled in their academics, sports, community service and student leadership over their four years at Cranston West.

“The Ideal Cranstonian Award is considered one of the most prestigious honors a student can receive in recognition of their personal achievements and contributions to Cranston West,” Barbieri said. “The individual receiving the award exemplifies Falcon pride, service to community and serves as a role model to others, supporting the school creed with dedication and integrity.”

The Ideal Cranstonian award has been given out since 1963.

As the ceremony began to conclude and students were readied for the walk across the stage for their diplomas, faculty member Anthony Loporchio read aloud the Traditional Reading of the Rose, in honor of former West Principal, Ed Lemoi, who passed away at the beginning of the school year. Principal Barbieri recognized those students who will be serving their country after graduation: Kyle Arnold, Thomas Napolitano, Damon Vallente and Bojana Wentzel. He concluded the ceremony with his closing remarks, congratulating the students and their families, and celebrating their achievements as a class, with 91 percent of them continuing on to post-secondary education or the military in the fall, 31 percent being first generation college students, and 22 percent taking advantage of the RI Promise Community College opportunity, the second highest in the state. Collectively, the class has garnered almost seven million dollars in college scholarships and have received almost 700 individual college acceptances and been accepted to 71 different post-secondary institutions nationwide. They have raised nearly $10,000 for community families and charities and devoted a combined 13,000 hours of community service.

“I ask each of my graduating classes that when you leave here today that you do the following three things, kiss your parents and family members, tell them you love them every day, thank a teacher, be selfless and come back and give back to your community,” he said. “As our school mission statement states, you are always a Falcon. You have been a wonderful class, one that I will remember fondly and never forget. You are right Aji, we are winning at life, every day. Continue to strive for greatness and never, never accept anything less.”

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