On Saturday morning, the 51st class from Cranston High School West began the first day of the rest of their lives as they participated in the morning's graduation ceremonies. Rachel Vierra, Student Council president, led the procession of 402 graduates, dressed in red and gray caps and gowns, into the auditorium at the Providence Performing Arts Center, carrying the 2013 graduation banner that was designed by graduating senior Farzana Zubair.
Cranston West Senior Choir members, directed by Mr. Philip Lachance, performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” and Principal Tom Barbieri welcomed everyone to the ceremony, stating that it was to be "another great day for Cranston High School West," as they took part in his first graduation ceremony as principal.
Mayor Allan Fung congratulated both the graduates and Barbieri.
"I have known Tom Barbieri for a long time. In fact, we graduated from high school together and I know that he's the right individual to lead Cranston High School West into the next generation," Fung said.
Fung shared with the students that it was just 25 years ago that he was sitting in the same seat as they, awaiting the moment when "all the speakers were going to finish, dying to cross that stage, excited to grip that diploma, turn that tassle, and take on the world."
Fung encouraged the students to embrace change and to use the tools they have been given throughout their education at West.
"You have been given the necessary tools from our fine educational system to succeed. Use it and always keep learning," he said.
School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi reminded the students that this day was not just for them, but for their families who stood by them. She encouraged the students to reflect on their future, and to treat their graduation day as a new beginning.
"Today is your fresh start," she said.
Using a similar theme as the mayor, Superintendent Dr. Judith Lundsten spoke to the students about the ever-changing world of technology, likening it to a tidal wave.
"I believe that as 2013 graduates and 21st century learners, you will ride this wave successfully. Others, like me, are working on it," she said. “I believe that learning is a source of power and it has a set of dispositions that go with it. Some folks call these dispositions habits of mind. These dispositions paired with this technology will position you for the future."
She listed examples that she'd seen throughout the school year of the students using their habits of mind, from artwork at the schools and in local galleries to sporting events and portfolio presentations.
Lundsten closed by showing the students two glass stars that she holds near and dear to her heart, as they were given to her in the year 2000 and have traveled with her from office to office.
"I frequently carry one to these kinds of events. I hold them carefully in my hand. Even though they are not expensive, they are precious to me. These stars represent you, the students of this school system," she said.
The Cranston West Concert Choir sang two selections, "You Raised Me Up" and "For Good," before students began their speeches, starting with class president Jeankarla Duran.
"It was not too long ago that we were the freshmen, and now we are graduating," Duran said. "Never again will we have to hear things like GSEs, Common Tasks and especially, portfolios. This is one of the most exciting times of our lives."
She gave her fellow graduates several pieces of advice, telling them to seize the moment, take risks and make mistakes, as long as they learn from them.
"We may be done at West, but once a Falcon, always a Falcon,” she said.
Principal Barbieri introduced salutatorian Rachel Souza, who will be attending Brown University this fall after being the youngest summer intern at the Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital, working on research in the area of Alzheimer's Disease, earning co-authorship in a scientific journal article as well.
Souza recalled her first day at West, two weeks prior to the start of school when she arrived on campus to audition for the school band as a drummer. At that time, her future ambition was to be a musician. She thanked faculty members at West who introduced her to new interests in the world of science, including her biology teacher, Golden Apple winner Holly Meyer, who she said "marches to the beat of her own drum."
She thanked Principal Barbieri for creating a spirit in her class, "which can never be silenced."
"I am proud to say that I am part of the Falcon Family," Souza said. "Let us learn to live our lives with confidence, march to our own beat, make some noise and be heard."
Valedictorian Rebecca Scialabba, who will be attending the University of New Hampshire this fall, said the end of high school marks the beginning of the rest of their lives.
"I remember being a ninth grader and asking my teacher what commencement meant. I was told that it signifies the beginning. For us, the class of 2013, this commencement ceremony celebrates our beginning,” she said.
Scialabba listed several things the seniors would now have strictly as memories, rather than part of their everyday lives.
"No longer will you look back and see that red piping going through your classroom, no longer will you have to worry about artifacts in your portfolio or whether our portfolios will get us into college or how they are relevant to our future," she said. "We will soon be meeting new people, discovering new interests and before we know it, we will be back at our 10-year reunion."
As Scialabba listed some of the things that made her years at West special, she took special note of the effect that Principal Barbieri had on the class of 2013.
"We had the most meaningful change in our senior year, which was very different than our first three. We have an overwhelming sense of spirit and community and a newfound sense of pride. We are supportive of each other and that is all the responsibility of one person," she said. "Cranston West is a happier, warmer place because of Mr. Barbieri."
She reminded the students that no matter what changes they face, they have the potential to do great things, citing the school's first "Pink Out" video that was created this year in honor of faculty member Gina Bailey, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer this past fall.
"West came together when it affected one of our own. At last check, that ‘Pink Out’ video had 27,994 views on YouTube," she said.
The awarding of the Ideal Cranstonian Award followed the student speakers, with Principal Barbieri announcing Elizabeth Grammas as this year's recipient of the award, which has been given out since 1963. Barbieri described Grammas as a student with "an intense desire to help others, a compassionate, religious student with a strong social conscience and family traditions. She is kind, generous, genuine and hard-working."
Barbieri asked for a round of applause for the faculty and staff of Cranston West, calling them the "educational thread, the social greatness in the educational community."
Hoping not to seem redundant from the speakers who had already spoken that morning, Barbieri said he would be speaking from the heart during his own remarks.
"At that first class assembly, I spoke about the definition of one word: Respect. Respect for our family, our school, our community, ourselves. We've had several defining moments this year, like the ‘Pink Out’ video, which made a difference for our family, our school and our community," Barbieri said. "We've also had sporting events, games, plays, productions, special events, even saying goodnight to you as you left the school. You've been a very special class to me. You are athletes, exceptional scholars, and you've shown mature, responsible behavior."
Barbieri noted that more than 96 percent of the graduates were accepted to post-secondary institutions for the fall and, collectively, the class received over $6 million in scholarships and financial aid to over 200 prestigious institutions. Students going into the armed forces were also recognized and received a round of applause.
"We have set the benchmark high for others," Barbieri said. “I will fondly remember and never forget you. Strive for greatness and never accept anything less."