If they’re willing to take risks and believe in themselves, the stars are the limit for the 166 graduates of Johnston High School’s class of 2017.
“We have this amazing ability to make change by acting together, and given that we live in a world that is constantly testing our resolve, it is our duty to do everything we can to make the most positive impact possible,” said Salutatorian Adam Bouchard. “Remember, it is not America’s politicians or wealth that make it great, America’s greatness is attributed to the fortitude and patriotism of its people, and that’s us.”
Johnston High School’s 55th commencement, held last Friday at the Providence Performing Arts Center, was a testament to the successes students had during the last four years and a celebration of their futures.
Dennis Morrell, former principal of Ferri Middle School and current principal of JHS, knows the class well as he’s watched them grow through the years. He spoke about how the students’ lives will change as they now enter a “real world” that’s filled with challenges without the safety net found during high school. Morrell’s advice focused on what it means to become a whole person.
He told students to take risks in life, whether they are big or small, academic or social, and to be unafraid to ask questions. He said that people hold the power to be kind, and that being awkward is nothing but a state of mind. Morrell asked the graduates to confront the natural fear of failure, saying that it is through missteps that the greatest memories and advancements in life are made.
“When you think about it, failure in life is inevitable; it is going to happen unless of course you live your life so carefully that you very well may never have lived at all,” he said. “And if that’s the case, then you have already failed.”
While he recognized that the seniors may find it difficult to know what their dreams are, Morrell reassured them that, given time, they can be found and to grab them when given the chance.
“At the heart of every great goal is idealism, and at the heart of every leader, every risk taker, every go-getter is the ability to change our definition of what idealism is,” he said.
Class President Anthony Cabral asked his classmates to thank those who have helped and provided support along the way.
“We have experienced a lot in these past years, and I hope that you cherish these moments forever when you look back upon them. Wherever life may take you, never forget where you came from and remember the values instilled in you,” said Cabral. “There will always be a part of Johnston inside you for the rest of your lives. I wish you luck in your future in whatever path you choose to take. We are the class of 2017, and we are here to be seen.”
Wherever those paths may lead, Mayor Joseph Polisena said the students’ journey was built on a solid foundation provided by dedicated teachers and parents, coaches, staff, school committee and administration, which he considers second to none. A graduate of the class of 1972, he said he knows the students’ path ahead won’t be straightforward, but that he’s confident in their abilities to improve the world for the better.
“Each of you will soon face new and exciting challenges as you navigate your future. It won’t be easy, but I’m telling you that you can and will succeed because you had a strong educational foundation at Johnston High School,” said Polisena. “In those four years you’ve learned lessons in perseverance, self-confidence, self-esteem, and of course, most importantly compassion for others. You’re all ready to accomplish many great things, to think on your own and master life’s most difficult issues, as well as apply your critical thinking skills, and believe me you are all ready. ”
Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo, Jr. highlighted the importance of developing leadership skills in his address to the graduates. He noted the influence that confidence, determination, commitment, morality, risk taking, independent thinking and a positive attitude can have on a person’s life. DiLullo advised graduates to be a “moral beam” by doing the right thing as they become leaders in their own lives and communities.
“As you move into your adult life, you have choices to make. You can be a passive victim of circumstance, and complain about everyone else that makes your life unbearable or makes you do something you don’t want to. Or, you can be the active hero of your own life and ensure your own positive destiny,” he said.
Janice Mele, chair of the Johnston School Committee, offered congratulations to the students and their families on behalf of the committee. She encouraged students to follow their hearts and intuition.
“Behind you are wonderful memories, before you are all your dreams, around you are the people who love you and are there to support you, and within you is all you need. Life’s choices are yours to make,” she said.
Class Advisor Erin Ferraro planned events, organized fundraisers, and assisted with Homecoming activities amongst other duties for the class. She said she was surprised by how fast her time with the students passed.
“I look out from the stage and realize that we are surrounded by the future. The future brings change, and without goals, change brings fear,” she said. “So class of 2017, you must realize that to get thing you’ve never had, you must do things that you’ve never done.”
Ferraro offered 10 pieces of advice: put phones away while at the dinner table; if you’re on time, then you’re late; surround yourself with positive people; always carry a first aid kit; hand write thank you notes; have a firm handshake and look the person in the eyes; worry more about character than reputation; forgive; fear should be a motivator, not an excuse; and think before you share, tweet, snap, like or post to social media.
Salutatorian Adam Bouchard thanked the high school’s new administration for providing structure and support, for interacting with the students, and listening to them. He said their involvement and interest in student affairs provided the class with unique opportunities to redress grievances and make changes within the school. Bouchard also thanked the Guidance Department, class advisor, and teachers for “going above and beyond for our well being.” He encouraged his friends and classmates to pay it forward to others.
Valedictorian Laura Wilson reminisced about coming from West Bay Christian Academy, and how transitioning to Johnston High was coming to “a whole new world.” She said she found the vibrant spirit of Johnston in school events and organizations. Wilson recalled a school fire alarm during a downpour, and remembered how her teacher Mr. DelPonte announced that the students could either let the situation bring them down and give up, or rise up and persevere, which the students did.
“The life lessons that JHS has provided us transcend academic knowledge and one’s test taking abilities. So let these life lessons guide us into the future, propelling us into the unknown world outside Johnston,” said Wilson. “As we leave each other tonight, let’s be many, but let us not forget Johnston’s unique sense of community and the true lessons we have learned here.”