Overcoming adversity: Woonsocket grads show resilience

Overcoming adversity: Woonsocket grads show resilience

While seeking shelter from a brief pre-graduation downpour, graduate Noah Asstafan displays the patriotic artwork on his mortarboard. Asstafan, will be entering the Navy in the fall. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

WOONSOCKET – Among the 261 Woonsocket High School students who received a diploma at Barry Field on a muggy late Friday afternoon last week were future engineers, artists and educators.

There were accomplished athletes, a talented photographer/videographer, women who aspire to become doctors, and a student who aspires to be a priest. More than 160 of the students have plans to attend college in the fall, and many of them will be the first in their generation to do so.

“We have so much good coming out of this class it’s unbelievable,” said Principal Carnell Henderson during a speech at the June 9 commencement. “You have proven when you believe in yourself all things are possible.”

“There is so much greatness in this group,” he added.

The class boasts 53 National and Rhode Island Honor Society members and has 13 students with plans to join the armed forces. The school’s athletic teams have brought home nine titles during the class’s time at WHS, and students from the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center have volunteered hours of free time to build playhouses for children with terminal illness. Several of the students were the first from the school to get the state’s seal of bi-literacy affixed to their diplomas. And members of the Class of 2017 have donated 305 pints of blood, enough to save some 915 lives.

“Novans work together to help others. We are dedicated and driven students who are always there for one another,” said Valedictorian Christina Lussier. “Never forget that we are all Novans.”

Henderson noted that the class’s defining trait and most impressive accomplishment goes beyond what can be named on a simple list of achievements.

“What you didn’t hear is the journey many of them had to take to get here,” he said, noting the students’ graduation portfolios showed a class that had overcome immense adversity. “Every class has its own identity, and this class continues to show me just how resilient you are.”

A somewhat risky decision to hold commencement services outdoors despite expected afternoon rain provided a metaphor for a class that, by many accounts, has survived plenty of storms of its own. Heavy rains gave way to rays of sunshine just moments before the celebration was set to begin.

“The rain won’t stop us. No adversity stops this class. The show goes on,” Henderson said.

Supt. Patrick McGee said for some students, arriving at the educational landmark was relatively painless.

“For others, only your grit and perseverance got you here,” he said. “As individuals the class of 2017 is second to none.”

Salutatorian Lucas Rodriguez said that for many, high school wasn’t easy.

“In our community we haven’t been given everything and have had to work for it,” he said. “As a result of this we have an advantage over others who come from more privileged communities because we’ve been taught a lesson of hard work and the goodness and satisfaction it can bring.”

“Challenges will only make us stronger,” he said. “Let us always remember to love where we started from.”

Lussier said that as the students move on to bigger and better goals, they will remember shared experiences like this year’s senior pranks, including a “senior nap,” in the school’s hallway.

“This year, many of us learned that we shouldn’t hold back on anything and to have no regrets,” she said. “There will be no rain on this parade.”

The graduates were reminded to take on the world on their own terms, as proud Novans.

“The sign on the door of opportunity says ‘push,’” said School Committee Vice Chairman Donald Burke. “Be open and ready to grasp the opportunity that comes your way.”

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt told the students that their community will stand behind them as they begin their next chapter.

“We are a proud city, and nothing brings us greater pride than when we see one of our students, our neighbors or our friends succeed,” she said.

Calling out dozens of students by name, Henderson acknowledged a personal connection to a class that he said has stood out.

“This group has something more,” the principal said. “We are not meant to fit in, we are meant to stand out. That’s the definition of this class.”

“Don’t be concerned with the past and the regrets,” he told the group. “Be concerned about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to be amazing and always be a proud Novan.”

The graduates are in their places to begin the 2017 commencement for Woonsocket High School last Friday at Barry Field.
Kaylie Simone Perrico, who will be attending the University of New Hampshire in the fall, waves to family and friends in the football stands; at right is Jessica Marie Paquette. Woonsocket High School’s 2017 commencement ceremony was held last Friday at Barry Field.
When an unexpectedly strong gust of wind blasted Barry Field, two graduates had to hold onto their caps.
Hannah Evers places a pin on Noah Desplaines before the ceremony.
Melanie Melendez and Rafael Mejia seek shelter beneath an umbrella during a pre-ceremony downpour. Melendez will be attending CCRI and Mejia will be continuing at a technical college.