By PAM SCHIFF
Life in Cranston in the 1940s was pretty easy for Sal Marchetti. He was in high school, played football for Cranston High School (later to become Cranston East) and was …
Life in Cranston in the 1940s was pretty easy for Sal Marchetti. He was in high school, played football for Cranston High School (later to become Cranston East) and was just living life.
In 1949, however, he left high school to join the army to serve his country in the Korean Conflict, and never got to graduate.
According to Sal's daughter in-law, Rachel Marchetti, the idea for the graduation ceremony came about in a true Cranston way.
"The ceremony came about because my sister-in-law, Bethany, (Sal’s daughter) was talking to Lauren Ortega at Max’s (Sal's grandson) signing day for the Scorpions. Lauren told Bethany that she taught at Cranston East. Bethany told Lauren that her father Sal went to East and played football there. Then Lauren asked if she thought Sal would be interested in being honored at the annual Turkey Bowl Thanksgiving football game," said Rachel.
Although her boys are Falcons, they sat on East’s side for the Thanksgiving game and cheered for East that day to honor their grandfather.
The family wasn't sure how Sal would initially feel about the idea.
"My father-in-law is a little shy, so we weren’t quite sure how he would react. I asked him if he wanted to go and told him that all three of his grandsons would be there with us. So he agreed to go. In that same conversation, he told me that his greatest regret in life was not graduating high school," Rachel said.
She sent Lauren a message and asked who she needed to speak to about requesting an honorary diploma for him.
"She then put me in touch with Kaitlin Hitchings [Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs at Cranston High School East] who was the facilitator of the whole ceremony. She was amazing to work with. Kaitlin asked how I thought Sal would best like to celebrate this moment, and I told her something small and at the school because he can be shy. She ran with the idea," said Rachel.
Hitchings asked Jeannine Nota-Masse, Cranston Superintendent, to hand the diploma to him like all Cranston graduates. She also asked East Principal Tom Barbieri to come and speak on behalf of East and she invited Lauren’s class to attend.
On Dec. 20, 2022, Sal was finally going to graduate and get his diploma.
"It was a very moving ceremony. Current students may take for granted the availability of high school and the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, and his story was a profound one for them. Mr. Marchetti's gratitude certainly highlighted the fact that young men in his generation did not take education for granted, and instead, put their service to our country above their own personal goals. Having his family there to celebrate his accomplishment was very special for everyone. We were lucky that we were all there to share in his joy," said Nota-Masse.
Sal was completely unprepared for what was happening that day.
"It was a complete and total surprise to Sal. We told him we were taking him to lunch, and that we had to stop by the school to get some thing that they weren’t able to give him the day of the game," said Rachel.
The library at East was decorated with green and white, all the school banners and there was an honor guard from the JROTC students.
"His reaction was priceless. Before Sal entered the room, I could see his face from the angle of where I was standing. I could see him taking a few deep breaths before he walked in. At that moment, he knew something special was happening, and that it was most likely his diploma. I honestly couldn’t believe how perfectly he reacted to it. You could see it in his face, what a special moment this was. You could hear it in his words, how much this really meant to him.
But, equally as amazing was how the students who were there witnessing his graduation reacted. They were genuinely happy for him. I think there was a silent understanding between the students watching and Sal. They could see how much this meant to him," she said.
Barbieri was taken by Sal's words and the ceremony itself.
"From the time Mr. Marchetti walked in surrounded by our JROTC students to his words of advice to our students. His emotional words stuck with me – he spoke to how much the diploma means and what it means for our students. He also spoke to never being too late to achieve your goals. What a powerful message from a person who sacrificed for his country. Cranston High School East thanks Mr. Marchetti for his personal sacrifice and coming back home to get the recognition he deserves – it was long overdue," Barbieri said.
As fate would have it, Rachel happened to find a 1949 Cranston yearbook on eBay and brought it to his graduation for the students to sign. They all signed it willingly and with smiles on their faces.
Sal was blessed to have some many family members in attendance including Dena Marchetti (Sal’s wife) Jeff Marchetti (Sal’s youngest son) Rachel, Jeffrey Jr., Max, Jake, Bethany Gentile (Sal’s daughter) and Tom Gentile (Bethany’s husband), Paul Marchetti (Sal’s oldest son) and Kim Marchetti (Paul’s wife).
Rachel was touched by the responses she received from the entire Cranston School community as well as friends.
"The number of members in the community that I heard from afterwards was enormous. Friends who knew of friends that worked in the building and saw the graduation were messaging me and telling me that was one of the greatest moments they have seen in school. It was such a feel-good moment for everyone," she said.
Sal was able to speak to the crowd in the library about his feelings.
“The lesson is, it’s never too late to get your diploma, regardless of the circumstances. I am certainly overwhelmed. I never thought this day would come, but it’s here and I just love it to death. I’m a Cranstonian forever and ever …. To me, if I drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest person in the world," Sal said.
Sal's youngest grandson, Jake, offered his impression of the day and ceremony.
"I remember him telling me how it was his biggest regret and no one, especially those who’ve served, deserve to live with regrets. That’s why it meant so much to me when my mom and the extremely helpful staff at CHSE made this all possible and made my grandpa’s life regret free," he said.
Max is graduating this year as well and he turned to his grandfather and said, “Hey Gramps, you got to graduate before me!”
"That day as we were getting ready to enter East, Jeffrey said to me, ‘I am so excited about this. I have never been this excited about someone else in my entire life. Is this what it’s like having kids and watching them graduate?’ My answer, “Yes, this is exactly what it’s like,” said Rachel.
Like all the Marchetti graduates in their family, they headed to Twin Oaks for a celebratory dinner.
The perfect end to a perfect day.
To watch the video of Sal's graduation, go to www.magisto.com/album/video/JzgpWkBYFgEmJzIPYnZLB3k?l=vsm&o=i&c=c&fbclid=IwAR28KaNKi-AUf8eyHQ5Eu4u8pTHTKxuSwlaT4POJ0kXcBs3sVHPAZZlo20c.
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