WOOD RIVER JCT. — Walking across a stage set up on the football field for the first time in 19 years, 235 Chariho High School seniors received their diplomas and were reminded of lessons learned from the unusual year they just experienced.
Parents, teachers, and invited members of the community watched the ceremony on the football field Friday evening as friends and family watched online. It was the first graduation ceremony to be held at the school since 2002; the past 18 have been held at the Ryan Center on the campus of the University of Rhode Island.
In his opening address, Chariho High School Principal Craig MacKenzie said the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened everyone’s resiliency.
“While our school experience was more muted than in the past, we are kinder to each other, more appreciative of many aspects of schooling that we might have taken for granted, and more aware of how our attitudes and actions impact others,” he said.
Marking his last graduation at Chariho, MacKenzie ended his remarks by telling the graduates, “I don’t take for granted that the promise I see in the eyes of the Class of 2021 inspires me to continue to grow as I make my next big move with you.”
Paige Grissom, the Class of 2021 valedictorian, said learning how to think is the most important aspect of education.
“I urge all of you to always look at data and come to your own conclusions,” Grissom said. “Use common sense and personal discretion to make choices that are correct for you and your family rather than blindly allowing others to tell you what is good for you and decide how you should live your life. We are all unique individuals who come from different circumstances and have different minds, so rather than believing the narrative presented to you, look beneath the surface and come to your own understanding of the world and its complexities.”
In her speech, salutatorian Faith Ells told the graduating class that academic performance is not the absolute definition of success.
“You have value no matter what,” Ells said. “You can do anything you want to, despite what others tell you. It takes hard work, grit, and determination, but you should not hold how you performed here in high school as your definition of success.
“Do whatever you can to fight for the life you want. Use what you’ve learned here at Chariho, whether it be from positive or negative experiences, advocate for yourself, and work hard for what you want.”
In her remarks to the graduating class, Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard compared the graduates’ choices to the words in a story.
“We build our stories every day,” Picard said. “You are the writer of your own story. You take the pen every day, and one word at a time — one day at a time — your story is written. Life is your story. Choose the right words.
“Your stories have only just begun,” she continued. “Choose your words carefully. The choices you make today will all be a part of your story … take your pen and continue to write a great story.”