For East’s class of 2021, a bright finish to challenging year

Posted 6/16/21

For a class that saw its junior and senior years disrupted profoundly, the bright skies over Cranston Stadium on Saturday afternoon set the stage for a deservedly pleasant, celebratory …

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For East’s class of 2021, a bright finish to challenging year


For a class that saw its junior and senior years disrupted profoundly, the bright skies over Cranston Stadium on Saturday afternoon set the stage for a deservedly pleasant, celebratory finale.

Looking out over Cranston High School East’s class of 2021 seated on the football field, as well as the hundreds of family members and friends gathered in the stands on both the home and visiting sides, Principal Sean Kelly perhaps best summed up the sentiments surrounding the school’s graduation.

“Well, we’re back, and it sure goes feel good to be back with people,” he said. “And if you take a look up, the sun always shines on Cranston East.”

The 345 graduates, Kelly said, join a “long and illustrious ‘green line’ of Thunderbolt alumni,” becoming part of a tradition that dates back to the school’s founding in 1891.

Eighty-seven percent of the graduates, he said, are going on to a two- or four-year college, or another educational opportunity. Combined, they have received more than $2 million in scholarships and financial aid.

Five percent of the graduates will join the workforce, and 2 percent are entering military service. The other roughly 6 percent remain undecided on their next step, Kelly said – but given what they have weathered during the past 15 months, he expressed confidence they will find their path.

Kelly spoke of his own pandemic experience, of witnessing and being involved with “so many things that I never thought I would see or do in my career or in my lifetime.” He remembered firefighters disinfecting ambulances behind the Briggs building, a scene he likened to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He referenced the rushes to adapt to distance and hybrid learning, and of his own training to administer rapid COVID tests.

“It’s brought me back to saying from my father. He used to say this all the time: ‘We don’t panic, we adjust,’” Kelly said.

He urged each member of the class to “be a problem solver,” and added: “We don’t panic, we adjust. We are Cranston East.”

Class of 2021 president Ivan Abreau, in a nod to the Ocean State, described the challenges of the pandemic as more “pothole” than “road bump.” But together, he said, this year’s seniors have “pulled through phenomenally.”

“I remember walking into Cranston East freshman year and being told by Mr. Kelly on our first day, ‘This is the best high school in the state.’ And boy, did I not believe a word he said at the time,” Abreau said. “It is here on this lovely Saturday evening that I would like to confess to all of you that he was right all along.”

He added: “East has successfully nurtured numerous students from different skin tones, races, sexual orientations and origins all into responsible and capable young adults … Starting off as tiny little freshies, we, through the hard work from all our teachers, counselors, staff, family, friends and ourselves, have been able to grow into amazing people. And that within itself is something to be proud of.”

William Hardy, class salutatorian, said the pandemic has reinforced the reality that “it’s rare for everything to always go as planned.”

“I know as an 18-year-old who is unsure about the future, I am not totally qualified to talk on this subject, but my two cents is this – do something in life that works for you, and never think that it’s too late for a change,” he told his peers. “We’re constantly told that what we choose to do next will decide the rest of our lives, but really a lot can happen. So keep an open mind and prioritize your own well being.”

Aislinn Baxter, class valedictorian, took a different approach to her remarks. She read a poem, one filled with references to the pandemic, social media and the shared experiences of the class 2021.

One passage: “Quick recap of the year so far / A ‘two-week break’ from school in March / Then, just kidding! We’re staying home forever / Cue TikTok and Doja Cat’s rise to fame together.”

During the remarks from dignitaries in attendance, Mayor Ken Hopkins called it “an honor to share this special day with you as your mayor.” A former educator, he said he has a “special place in my heart” for Cranston East.

Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse reflected on the pandemic while offering advice for the future.

“We don’t know what the future holds, and certainly we learned that his year. As the old Yiddish adage goes, ‘Man plans and God laughs,’” she said.

She added: “Challenge yourself and step outside of that comfort zone, even for a little while … Expand your horizons and you will learn about yourselves.”

Michael Traficante, a former mayor and current citywide member of the School Committee, offered colorful remarks he described as “not a traditional message.”

“I’m from an era of pre-cell phones, pre-internet, PCs and Facebook. I’m from an era that went from radio to the moon. I’m from an era of rock ‘n’ roll music and jitterbug dancing,” he told the graduates. To laughter, he also referenced a trip to New York City to see the play “Hamilton” – and his distaste for the production’s thoroughly modern, hip-hop-infused take on American history.

Much of Traficante’s message was more serious, though.

“Graduates, no matter the years that come between you and this day, you will remember, and you will treasure, this special, once-in-a-lifetime moment that is exclusively yours,” he said.

Saturday’s ceremony concluded with the playing of “Shine Like Stars,” recorded by the Cranston East Choir, and the school song.

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