By DANIEL KITTREDGE Ramon Torres, who this year succeeded Dennis Curran as executive director of the New England Laborers'/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy, hasn't known the graduates of the public charter school's class of 2021 as
Ramon Torres, who this year succeeded Dennis Curran as executive director of the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy, hasn’t known the graduates of the public charter school’s class of 2021 as long as many of his colleagues.
Nonetheless, he can testify to the students’ character and resilience after a year shaped by the challenges of distance learning and social distancing.
“Honored guests, in front of me is a great group of promising individuals. You are resourceful, persistent, resilient, and an inspiration for others to emulate. You have proven your strength as every one of you has met your parents’, teachers’ and community’s expectations,” Torres told the 41 members of the class of 2021 during their June 11 graduation ceremony at the Cranston High School West football field.
To that message of praise, he added a call to action.
“You devoted countless hours of community service, showing great compassion and leadership in our community,” he told the graduates. “I urge you to continue to give back, as our community needs you now more than ever.”
The outdoor setting, with the West campus as a backdrop, was a first for the school. After the pandemic forced 2020’s graduation to be done virtually, the family members, friends, faculty, staff and local officials gathered to watch last week’s ceremony clearly relished the return to in-person events.
Daniel Roca, class valedictorian, addressed his peers and the audience with “great honor and pride.” He spoke of the challenges from the last 15 months – the need to “adapt to this new environment,” and the feeling of being “emotionally drained” at times because of the enormity of events.
“You are all an example that we, as a nation, can persevere, even in the darkest of times,” he said.
Roca also praised the school’s staff, which he said “felt like family.”
“It’s because of them that I and so many others are here where we are today,” he said.
Roca will study computer science this fall at Johnson & Wales University.
Torres, during his remarks, recognized a number of current and former staff members, including Curran and former dean of academics Carolyn Ferris.
To Curran and Ferris, he said: “I’m forever grateful for your support and for staying close to this graduating class that you brought here as ninth-graders.”
Nearly 20 of the class of 2021 graduates, Torres said, will soon attend the New England Laborers’ Training Academy in Pomfret, Connecticut. More than half of the graduates will attend a two- or four-year college or university, or a technical school. Others will join the workforce or the military.
“I know that you never envisioned the events of the past 15 months. However, you have shown that there are no limits on what can be achieved,” Torres said. “The world came to a standstill, but you kept going and kept your eyes on the ultimate goal. You have what it takes to deal with whatever comes your way. You proved it.”
Mayor Ken Hopkins called attending the graduation ceremony “the best part of my job.”
“While your very unique high school experience may have felt like a struggle at times, it has in fact prepared you for the next phase of your life better than you can ever imagine,” he told the graduates. “You have already learned that life isn’t always predictable … you will constantly need to adapt and adjust to meet the challenges and problems that may arise in your life.”
He added: “These past four years have felt long, but believe me, this is just the beginning … The real work and opportunity begin now.”
During her remarks, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse pointed out that she and Torres “go way back” to their days teaching in Providence’s schools. She acknowledged the challenges of the pandemic, with a particular message of condolence for those who lost a loved one to COVID-19.
“Don’t let this awful 15 months define you or derail your plans for the future,” she told the graduates.
She added: “You’re young, you’re talented, and you’re full of promise. Find your passion and follow it. Be the person who has a job but never works a day in your life.”
Dan Wall, chairman and Ward 6 representative on the School Committee, shared a similar message.
“It is said that the strongest steel is forged by the hottest fires. This class has been forged and strengthened by some of the hottest metaphorical fires,” he said.
He added: “Work hard, enjoy your life, dream, and show the courage to follow those dreams.”
Joseph Sabitoni represented the New England Laborers’ on behalf of Armand Sabitoni, who could not be in attendance. He noted that members of the NEL/CPS class of 2021 were recognized by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation for a work zone safety initiative and had their safety message used on message boards across the state.