KINGSTON — During a high school career defined by pandemic-era uncertainty, Coventry’s class of 2022 demonstrated kindness, initiative, selflessness and a willingness to work together, according to the school leaders who were there to witness it. 

Oaker pride was strong at the Ryan Center Wednesday evening, as 317 seniors collected their hard-earned diplomas and, turning the tassels that dangled from their caps, officially joined the ranks of Coventry High School alumni. 

Over more than two years, amid the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, the resilience demonstrated by the class of 2022 has been inspirational, Supt. Craig Levis said in his speech.

“For that I thank you,” the superintendent said, before also thanking all who have offered support for their “unwavering belief in our students and in our school community.”

Wednesday’s commencement exercises, the 88th annual and the first to be held at the Ryan Center since 2019, opened with a presentation of the colors by the high school’s Naval Defense Cadet Corp. Liangie Calderon gave a reading, Emma Almagno recited the Pledge of Allegiance and singers from the school’s select ensemble performed the national anthem. 

During his address to the graduates, Levis reflected on his own high school experience, and on the significant impact that his football coach and guidance counselor had on him.

“As a ninth grade student, coming from a small private school into a much larger high school, I often remembered feeling less than,” Levis recalled. “Mr. Loew showed me differently. He did not buy into my perception of self. If I didn’t feel good enough, he would show me how good I was.”

With Loew in his corner, Levis came to realize that just being himself was enough. 

“I am confident I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for his involvement with me back in 1975,” he said. “The interesting point is when I thanked him, he had no idea that he changed the trajectory of my life.”

Levis offered the graduates three actions one can take that, for him at least, have shaped a life that’s “full beyond belief:” first, help others; second, give others time; and third, use your voice. 

Finally, he said to those seated before him in their caps and gowns, “please be the Mr. Loew in someone’s life. Make every moment matter.”

After greetings by Coventry Town Council President Ann Dickson and Coventry School Committee Vice Chair David Florio, Brooke Macomber, principal of Coventry High School, took the podium.

Macomber began by recounting the hesitance she felt about stepping into the principal role back when Michael Hobin left the position in 2018. 

“Eventually, after much reflection, I accepted the job during your freshman year,” she said, looking out to a sea of red and white. “And boy, have we been through a lot together since then.”

From distance- and hybrid learning, to social distancing, to mask mandates, Macomber said, the challenges that they’ve all gone through have been plenty. 

Coventry High School, like most other schools across the state, has consistently been assigned a three-star rank out of five by the Rhode Island Department of Education, Macomber noted. 

Yet, she said, the teamwork, initiative, kindness and relationship-building demonstrated by the class of 2022 have been top notch.  

“When I look at tonight’s graduates and consider the dichotomy between how RIDE rated you throughout your high school career, and what I see every day, you are anything but average in the areas that mean the most in terms of real world success and happiness,” she said.  

The Coventry High School class of 2022 has had to problem solve more than any other in history, she said. The students have learned to “work together, communicate, persevere, remain flexible,” and graciously they have become selfless leaders. 

Between the culinary students, who made breakfast each day, and the cosmetology students, who gave manicures at the senior center; from the nearly 100 students who jumped into frigid waters to raise more than $14,000 for Special Olympics and the school’s unified program, to those going on to serve in the armed forces, members of the class have always shown up, Macomber said.

“Class of 2022, as your principal, I have also enjoyed watching you in the audience… as much as the actual performances and games because of the way that you cheered, supported and encouraged your classmates with such passion and sincerity,” she added. 

And through enormous challenges, Macomber continued, the graduates have worked hard and accomplished much. 

Among the class’s many achievements are the acceptances of two students into the Ivy League and of a third to Berklee College of Music; a nationally-ranked softball player; four SkillsUSA gold medalists; all-state athletes and musicians; state championships in football, wrestling, cheerleading, girls hockey, softball, unified volleyball and unified basketball.

The list goes on. 

“Our school motto, ‘Ad Aspera Per Aspera,' 'to the stars through difficulty,’ is certainly fitting for this class,” Macomber said. 

Macomber also spoke about the meaningful relationships that have been built, and about the impact each student has had on the school community. 

“That’s why our staff went out in the snow to your homes this winter to deliver 325 lawn signs to every member of this class to make sure you knew how much you mean to us,” she said. 

In return, she added, the students have taken many opportunities to show their teachers that they too are cared for. 

Macomber pointed out that the many positive attributes held by members of the class of 2022 are the same characteristics that employers look for on candidates’ resumes, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

And each of those attributes, she said, was on full display during a celebration of the high school’s national recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. 

“Through hard work, perseverance, and a strong focus on relationships, your class made acceptance, respect, kindness and inclusion our standard every day and in every way,” she said, just before a video of that special day in April played on the screen. 

One graduate, in particular, has made quite an impact.

Following the distribution of Oaker Awards — given annually in honor of former science teacher and department chair Ernest DiMicco — Kameron Hargis, a unified athlete with “the ability to draw others to him through his incredibly positive outlook on life, despite the many challenges that he faces daily,” was presented the “Keep the Faith” Award. 

The award was created last year in honor of Faith Keresztessy, a 2019 Coventry High School graduate and talented softball player who, despite breaking her back in September of 2020, has “continued to be a hopeful and inspirational force.”

Keresztessy herself presented Hargis with the award, to be given each year to a community member who “inspires us to look at challenges and obstacles as opportunities to pull people together, to overcome the odds, and make the community a significantly better place because of their example.”

Whether by speaking before a crowd of hundreds during the Unified Champion School celebration, making his way through the hallways independently, or trying any number of new things, Hargis over the last four years has grown greatly in confidence and self reliance.

As she wrapped up her speech to the graduating class, Macomber said she will always be grateful that four years ago she made the decision to take on the role of Coventry High School principal. 

“Without question, being your principal has been one of the greatest joys of my life, as I have had the opportunity to work alongside five-star teachers and the five-star class of 2022,” she said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you reach for the stars, and I look forward to watching you shine brightly in the years to come.”

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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