PROVIDENCE — It was a day 12 years in the making, and it came and went in a flash.
“Today is the day, and it’s been a long time coming,” Nathan Moone, president of the West Warwick High School class of 2019, kicked off Friday’s commencement ceremony. “It flew by for most of us, and for others it dragged by minute by minute.”
The Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence was awash in orange, as West Warwick High School said “farewell” to 232 of its Wizards before a packed house.
As he reflected on the last four years in an address that at several points elicited laughs, Moone spoke about the balance between school work, sports and extracurriculars, and recalled some of the most fond memories shared among his classmates.
“We had prom at Mystic Aquarium, getting to dance alongside beluga whales and dolphins,” he said, before emphasizing, “we danced beside beluga whales and dolphins. How trippy is that? Who else can say that?”
Chuckles echoed through the auditorium as Moone recounted a few silly moments. But as he began to speak sentimentally about “subtle moments between friends,” the room quieted. No matter where they end up in the years ahead, Moone said, for the graduates, “home will always be here as Wizards of West Warwick.”
Superintendent Karen Tarasevich followed Moone’s address with her own.
Just ahead of a rendition of “Manteca” by the WWHS Jazz Ensemble ‘A’ Band, Tarasevich congratulated the graduates — who she praised for being “pioneers” in several school-based initiatives — and encouraged them to learn from the people they encounter in the future.
“People have always fascinated me,” Tarasevich said, before delving into the inspiring stories of some of the people she’s read about over the last year: Sargent Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics; Michelle Obama, a successful attorney and former first lady of the United States; Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani female education advocate who was shot by the Taliban; and Greta Thunberg, a young, outspoken climate activist from Sweden.
“I did find a common thread in their stories,” Tarasevich said. “Although they all come from different backgrounds, they all have had something in common: a vision or a purpose, and they developed and used their talents to achieve their vision.”
Tarasevich spoke about the importance of serving others, using as examples those people she’d previously mentioned, as well as Arun Singh, a Providence-based doctor who fought through adversity to become a wildly successful cardiac surgeon.
“If you have a vision and work hard,” she said, “you can achieve great things in service to others.”
Next at the podium was Thomas Cornicelli, salutatorian of the class of 2019, in a speech that seamlessly combined humor with nostalgia.
Cornicelli began his address by reciting a handful of cliches: “there’s no ‘I’ in team;” “the early bird catches the worm;” and “it all comes down to this.”
“But that’s the thing,” he continued. “It doesn’t all come down to this. Tonight is the first chapter in the rest of our lives. It is not the end, it’s just the beginning.”
Cornicelli listed several of the “little things” that helped his classmates make it through each school day in a series of references that was clearly appreciated by the graduates.
“Of course, it would not be a Thomas Cornicelli speech without a quote from Cher: ‘I can trust my friends. These people force me to examine myself and encourage me to grow,’” he continued, thanking his friends Sarah Lyons and Jacob Bedard for being there for him and helping him “keep [his] sanity,” after also thanking his teachers for making school enjoyable and his parents for instilling in him a strong work ethic.
Cornicelli added that Friday’s ceremony wasn’t “a mere liberation from high school,” but also a celebration of the good and bad times, the friendships that have been established over the years and the future that awaits them.
“Members of the class of 2019 will be joining the workforce, defending the country in the military, and continuing their education while accumulating debt for their parents,” he said, as laughter broke out. “No matter how different these paths may seem, everyone here has the power to be successful.”
The high school’s concert chorale took the stage next for an energetic performance of “Come Alive,” with the valedictory address following.
In his address, William Pelit thanked his parents for their support and influence before reflecting on the importance of remembering the past and remaining “firmly planted in the present” while looking to the future.
“We are the young people who want to be dentists, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, engineers, weathermen, writers, servicemen and everything in between,” he said. “This path began in elementary school, transcended into middle school, and finally culminated in our four years together as Wizards.”
While each graduate’s plan for the future is unique, Pelit said what truly has defined each one’s high school experience is the teachers and friends who were part of it.
And as they “cross the threshold into the next stage of” their lives, it’ll be crucial for the graduates to step outside their comfort zones to be successful, Pelit said, adding “obstacles in our lives are meant to be conquered.”
“These experiences we’ve all shared over these past four years will probably mean very little in the grand scheme of things,” he continued. “Wherever you find yourself at the end of all this, we are all receiving the same diploma which recognizes each one of our success stories.”
The last speaker Friday was Philip Solomon, principal of West Warwick High School, who spoke about the myriad successes of the class of 2019.
Solomon said it’s unfair to use test scores as the sole measure of a cohort’s abilities.
“Graduates, I want you to know that despite the negative headlines about education in our state, to all of us here tonight, you are so much more than a score on a standardized assessment,” he said. “And what you’ve accomplished on your journey to this ceremony will always matter much more than a test score.”
Then, finally, it was time for the presentation of diplomas.
One-by-one, students were called by assistant principals Jessica Hassell and John Cunic to the stage, where members of the school committee took turns handing them their hard-earned diplomas.
“Graduates, if you continue to put forth the effort, commitment and character that you displayed during your time here in our school system, you will achieve success in various areas as you proceed throughout your lives,” Solomon continued in his address. “Class of 2019, you really will be missed."