Mayor Scott Avedisian returned Tuesday to his old stomping grounds at Pilgrim High School to partake in a meeting of the new Political Involvement Club, which was started in December by a Pilgrim student and English teacher Paula Merdink.
“This is a great trip down memory lane for me,” said Avedisian, a graduate of the class of Pilgrim class of 1983. “So far I'm the only mayor of Warwick who is a Pilgrim grad, and so I'm glad to be back.”
Avedisian spent an hour and a half with the group of students, who gather each week to discuss current events and challenge themselves to think bigger about issues occurring in society. They have hosted Superintendent Philip Thornton multiple times, and plan on having more guest speakers throughout the year.
Prior to Avedisian’s speaking portion, club founder and class of 2019 president Zachary Lafontaine passed out a survey sheet to assess whether each club participant leaned more towards being a Republican or Democrat. Avedisian took the opportunity to provide some contextual shades of gray into the inquiry.
“It will be really interesting to see the way that things shape up in the next few years,” he said, noting that political party ideologies have shifted numerous times throughout history and will likely be shifting throughout the near future as well. “What some people consider ‘Republican’ today were not always Republican beliefs.”
Avedisian noted how the party used to be pro-choice in regards to abortion under the Gerald Ford administration, and how Geraldine Ferraro was picked as the Republican running mate to Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale for his bid against Reagan in 1984 – the first woman candidate for vice president in the country’s history.
Avedisian didn’t shy away from pointing out ideological inconsistencies in certain Republican circles today either, noting how some hardline Republicans of the modern era are both sternly pro-life when it comes to abortion but are also staunch advocates of utilizing the death penalty.
Above all, Avedisian noted, it is important to be a free thinker and to be willing to listen to opinions from everybody, regardless what political affiliation they align themselves with – and that he believes a rise in independent voter registrations in the state is a sign that more people are beginning to think this way.
The mayor moved onto the issue regarding the current affairs of Warwick Public Schools. He briefly brought up the teachers’ contract salary issue, which will be heard at the Jan. 17 meeting of the Warwick City Council and ultimately will decide whether or not the city will make the withheld funding available that is required to give teachers agreed upon raises as per their new collective bargaining agreement.
Then Avedisian switched to repairing school buildings, summing up the situation into two camps of thought. Some people currently support an idea to build a large, brand new high school, while others support the proposed $85 million bond to do major repairs at all the city’s schools.
“I really think we should invest in all of our neighborhoods and in all of the schools surrounding us,” Avedisian commented, voicing support for the bond to repair rather than build new.
Lafontaine then asked Avedisian how a student interested in politics should get started in the field. The mayor sat back, introspective for a moment, before delving deep into his past and sharing his experience.
“The best thing to do is to be involved,” he said. “Even if you don't want to be involved and go out door-to-door and campaign, just being involved in a political campaign and seeing the headquarters and seeing what happens gives you a whole perspective on the world that you wouldn't normally get otherwise. And that changes opportunities and opens doors and gives you a different perspective into what the possibilities are.”
The point the mayor stressed most was to be open to any and all opportunities, even if you don’t think it will lead to the goal you ultimately have in mind at the time.
“When I was a kid I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to go learn to build and design buildings and figure out how to do interesting things architecturally. I didn't do any of that. But in the meantime it gave me great opportunities to do so many other things I never thought I would do. So keep your minds open,” he said. “I never thought I would be mayor. It was never my goal to run for mayor.”
As a last dose of perspective, Avedisian reflected on an internship he performed with the Rhode Island Juvenile Court system, and how seeing kids who had no parental guidance or steady place to live changed his perspective on life permanently.
“We all have issues that we deal with in life but, by and large in this city, we have pretty good, sheltered lives where you know there's going to be food on the table, you're going to be in a home that's fairly warm and most of your basic human needs are met,” he said. “We have it pretty good and we need to be respectful and mindful that not everyone was given everything that we've been given.”
As the mayor was preparing to leave one the students, who apparently didn’t notice the meeting had run past its usual time, spoke up.
“I forgot that I was in school,” he said.
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