Tolman grads urged to create their own path

Tolman grads urged to create their own path

Happy to graduate are, from left, Joel Negron, Joshua Goncalves, Nathan Estrela and Anthony Gonzalez who played sports together. Tolman High School’s Class of 2017 graduated on Wednesday, June 7. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

PAWTUCKET – The infectious energy, hooting and hollering and deafening noise that rocked Tolman High School’s auditorium last Wednesday were more reminiscent of a rock concert than a high school graduation.

The Tolman “T,” “2017,” “URI” and other decorations adorned many of the seniors’ mortarboards as Tolman High celebrated its 89th graduation ceremony. The graduating class of 204 students – with two sets of twins – included 19 students who had been inducted into the Rhode Island Honor Society and another 20 inducted into both the Rhode Island Honor Society and National Honor Society.

“The journey that brought you here [to graduation] taught you to persevere, ask for help, lend a hand, push yourself and create your own path,” Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien counseled the graduating class.

Grebien lauded this year’s class for its many extracurricular and academic accomplishments, including donating blood, participating in an environmental cleanup and gaining acceptance to colleges. Grebien said the creators of both Facebook and Snapchat thought outside the box and took the roads less traveled.

“They persevered, and that’s what you can do,” he said. No matter their path, he urged the graduates to return home to teach others what Pawtucket represents.

School Supt. Patti DiCenso cited recent terrorist attacks in Great Britain and France to drive home her message. Social media, she said, offers significant benefits in academic research and professional advancements, but terrorists, scam artists and bullies also use social media in an unproductive and damaging fashion. She told students to be leaders, to solve problems with patience, accurate information and collaboration. She urged them to lift their heads from their phones and look around, to interact with their families and communities face to face. DiCenso said students should never underestimate the power of love and kindness to counter the haters.

One of the world’s most famous athletes, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, is also a son, a husband, a father and a generous person, said Tolman Principal Chris Savastano, but fame, fortune and generosity did not insulate James from racism, as someone recently spray-painted a racist slur on a gate near his home.

Expressing hope that James will be proven wrong in his assertion that racism will always be part of America, Savastano acknowledged the country’s long and complicated history of racism. He said Tolman’s 2017 graduates have shown how students of different races and cultures can flourish as they embrace diverse points of view. This year, for the first time in the school’s history, students are recognized for demonstrating proficiency in more than one language. Savastano said, “You have given us all hope to live in a society free of prejudice … go out and make a difference in your community… why stop there; go out and change the world,” he said.

Salutatorian Robert Simoneau joked that he never once studied and had no idea why he was on stage. Simoneau adopted a serious tone in thanking family members and several teachers, especially Michael Raymond, “the single best teacher I’ve ever had.”

Bridget McLean, valedictorian, shared a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” with her classmates: “Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”

Remember your classmates, your favorite teachers and the clubs or sports you joined, McLean reminded her fellow graduates. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, even when you feel like giving up. Keep pushing; trying in and of itself is a success.”

Before the presentation of diplomas, Emili Brito De Jesus recited her original poem, “Take the Flight.”

Joanna Oluwaseun Olaoye, a member of the Rhode Island and National Honor Societies, smiles as she receives her diploma.
Brittney Baptista, a member of both the Rhode Island and National Honor Societies, receives congratulations upon graduating.
Ibrahim Keita receives his diploma. Beside him is Elizabeth Kennedy.
Graduates of Pawtucket’s Tolman High School Class of 2017 take their places in the auditorium at the beginning of graduation ceremonies last Wednesday.