WWHS class of ’19 valedictorian and salutatorian talk high school, future

William Pelit, left, and Thomas Cornicelli were named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the West Warwick High School class of 2019. The two will cross the stage along with the rest of their class tomorrow night. 


WEST WARWICK — They’re at the top of their class and they’re bound for the Ivy League. But with inevitably bright futures ahead of them, it’s clear William Pelit and Thomas Cornicelli won’t forget their time at West Warwick High School any time soon. 

“It was a rewarding high school experience,” Cornicelli said, sitting at a coffee shop beside Pelit. “I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and that helped me to grow as a person, a student —  in general, I think I’m a better person because of the West Warwick environment.”

With just days to go before turning their tassels, Pelit and Cornicelli, the 2019 class valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, spoke Tuesday with a mix of excitement and nostalgia, as they reflected on their time in the West Warwick Public Schools and shared their thoughts about the future. 

For Pelit, the plan is to study biochemistry and economics at Brown University with the goal of one day having a career as a doctor. 

He said it was his grandmother’s tireless encouragement that led him in that direction. 

“She was always saying, ‘push yourself, push yourself, push yourself,’” Pelit recalled of his grandmother, who died when he was in the second grade. “And I just kept going, pushing myself in memory of her.”

To honor the significant role she played in his academic success, Pelit will wear the same graduation cap tomorrow that his grandmother wore for her commencement ceremony some 70 years ago. 

Having moved to town when he was four years old, Pelit said Tuesday that West Warwick is the only home he’s ever really known. He lauded the school district for its “tremendous sense of community.”

“No one out there is really against you,” Pelit said. “We’re all trying to bring each other up.”

While Pelit delves next year into studying biochemistry, Cornicelli will be on the same campus, also focusing on a science field. 

After bouncing around between a number of subjects, Cornicelli finally landed on neuroscience as the field he’d like to pursue at Brown Universityl.

“I decided that I want to be a neurologist mainly because I want to help people,” he said, adding that he’s drawn to how personal the field of neurology is. 

“Originally I want to be an engineer,” he added, “and I feel like being a biomed engineer I could help people on a large scale, but as a neurologist I can really focus on that one person to do what they need to get better, specifically.”

Cornicelli listed precalculus as one of his favorite classes in high school. 

“For me, it wasn’t that boring hour that I would just sit, twiddling my thumbs, passing the time,” he said. “I really liked what was being taught — it kept my interest.”

Another subject that piqued Cornicelli’s interest throughout high school was Spanish. 

“I just love Hispanic culture and learning all about how different something can be from what we know,” he said, “but also how similar it can be, and how it all works together in the grand scheme of things.”

In addition to his participation with the World Language Honor Society and the Spanish club, Cornicelli participated throughout high school in the drama club, which he said “was amazing.” He’s also a member of the Thespian Society and served as president of the National Honor Society. 

Pelit, meanwhile, listed calculus, public speaking and AP statistics among his favorite courses. He added that he appreciated how dedicated his teachers were to their students’ success, naming, in particular, his statistics teacher, Jason Wilkinson.

“He’s just always there for you, whenever you need him,” Pelit said, adding that he also appreciated that Terrance Prohaska, his calculus teacher, always made class fun. 

As for the extracurricular activities Pelit was involved with throughout high school, the list is a long one — as editor of the school newspaper, treasurer of both the National Honor Society and the student council, captain of the math club and a member in both the music and world language honor societies, he certainly kept busy. 

Of all those activities, though, Pelit said he was especially passionate about his work with the student council. 

“It really opened up my horizons to do more things with the school that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” Pelit said, adding that he’s considering next year running for treasurer of the Undergraduate Council of Students at Brown. 

And with his days in the West Warwick High School now behind him, Pelit said he’s most looking forward to Brown’s open curriculum, which he expects will allow him to earn a degree in his chosen field while he also explores some of his other passions, like writing. 

Both Pelit and Cornicelli said they’re happy to be staying in Rhode Island next year.

“Getting accepted to Brown was kind of really a dream come true, because I could stay in Providence,” Pelit said, adding, however, that he could end up anywhere for medical school. 

“If I have to go to California, I’ll go to California. If I have to go to the Caribbean, so be it,” he continued. 

Cornicelli, meanwhile, had planned to attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute until he learned he’d been accepted to Brown.

“I knew that I wanted to stay close, and it’s kind of just a bonus that it’s in Rhode Island,” Cornicelli said.

As the two soon-to-be graduates prepare to cross the stage at The Vets tomorrow night, Pelit and Cornicelli both attributed their success in high school largely to their support systems of family and friends. 

“My parents always said, ‘school is your job right now. That’s what you’ve got to focus on,’” Cornicelli said. 

“Everyone was there for me,” Pelit chimed in, adding he hopes to remain in contact with his friends once they all leave West Warwick.

“Like with [Cornicelli],” he continued. “He’s one of my best friends from high school, and it’s just coincidental that we ended up one and two and we’re going to the same college.”

Pelit and Cornicelli also both spoke highly of Philip Solomon, the high school’s principal, for his unwavering support over the last four years. 

“He’s made the overall high school environment really welcoming,” Cornicelli said. 

And as for the rest of the West Warwick High School class of 2019, Cornicelli said he’s confident each of the graduates will find success.

“Everybody is going to be successful,” he said, “no matter what they end up doing.” 


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