GLOCESTER â It was a class of students Principal Sandra Nolan described as "kind, well-behaved, good-natured and committed to community service."
"Talk to the teachers, administrators and custodians, and they will all tell you that they will miss this particular group of students," Nolan told friends and family members of the 190 Ponaganset High School seniors who earned diplomas at Friday's 51st Commencement.
The Class of 2012, Nolan predicted, is ready to show those same attributes when they head off to college, the military and their work careers in the fall.
Like last year, the sun was shining brightly late Friday afternoon as the green-and-white-clad graduates walked to their chairs in front of the high school as the Ponaganset High School Wind Ensemble played a spot-on rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance."
Nolan noted some of the prestigious colleges and universities the graduates will be attending in the fall and then asked those graduates who are entering the Armed services in the fall to stand up and be recognized for their "courage and patriotism."
In her speech, Nolan quoted Albert Schweitzer, saying "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.â
"I thank you for being an outstanding group of young men and women," School Superintendent Michael Barnes told the graduates. "Our Ponaganset community will always be your family as you can see how powerful and amazing the spirit is here."
Addressing the seniors, Barnes acknowledged some of the Class of 2012's special traits, including the fact that the graduating seniors, combined, earned $1,227,000 in scholarships and that a majority of them graduated with at least a 3.25 grade-point average.
"These are a few examples of what makes these seniors special in and out of the classroom," he said.
In her address, Valedictorian Jessica R. Hallam told her fellow graduates that she would not be offering the typical wisdom and advice that is often heard in commencement speeches.
"I donât want to tell you to remember all the good times, the bad times, or the in-between times that youâve had in high school. Iâm pretty sure you wonât forget," she said. "Iâm not going to tell you that youâll look back on these past four years as some of the best years of your life, or that someday you will singlehandedly change the world. Iâm not going to tell you that the future of the country is in our hands, that the survival of mankind rests on our shoulders, or that only you can prevent forest fires, because, frankly, everyone can prevent forest fires.
âIâm not going to tell you that today is the first day of the rest of our lives, that weâre all turning over a new leaf, or that weâre finally entering the âreal world.â What is the real world anyway? Is high school a fictional world, a world from which we can move on only when we shift our tassels across our caps? I donât think so. But, if there is some new world to be discovered on the other side of our mortarboards, I think we should be properly prepared. For example, perhaps we might need a refresher course on tying our shoes, just in case thereâs a different method for bowing and knotting in that real world weâre coming upon."
What Hallam did tell the graduates was that they they can be the agents of positive change in the world.
"I am going to tell you that I believe each and every one of us is capable of catalyzing change, through whatever medium we choose. Among us are artists, athletes, actors, musicians, farmers, volunteers, and academics â people who are dedicating their lives to our country. Weâre creating change now. Whatever we choose to do in the future, we can, and will, make a difference doing it. "
Hallam used trees as metaphoric lessons the graduates can take with them as they begin their life journeys.
"One. You can climb them. Or in my case, you think you can, yet spend most of your time on the ground," she said. "The point is, you can try to climb them. Stare the challenge down, and never say you canât do it. Climb a little higher, if only just an inch, and look at the world from a different perspective. Itâs refreshing, invigorating; even a new perspective can inspire unparalleled creativity. If you canât make it to the top, gain new perspective from falling, no matter how much it hurts. Embrace your falls; they keep you honest, grounded. Never give up, keep climbing and falling, youâll get there.
"Two. When you find yourself in need of support, lean on the old trees, the trees with countless rings and nicks and scars collected over their long lives. If you need advice, go first to your parents, your grandparents, older siblings, or mentors. Although none of us wants to admit it, sometimes they do know better than we do.
"Three. Trees grow, extending their roots into uncharted territory, testing the waters. Never be afraid to grow. Always strive to go further, never settling. Learn something new every day, travel somewhere youâve never been, try exotic foods, make friends with someone you wouldnât usually talk to; do something that scares you, something outside your comfort zone. Extend your roots as far as you can and let your branches stretch into the stratosphere. Like that old saying, reach for the stars."
Said Hallam: "Steve Jobs, perhaps the greatest innovator of our time, was once advised, 'pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.' Class of 2012, weâre in control now. Weâre in control of the direction weâre heading, the decisions we make, and the lives we change. All of us are capable of remarkable things. So letâs graduate. Letâs find out."
In her address, Salutatorian Melissa R. Previte described the Class of 2012 as a class of "intelligent and talented individuals" with bright futures.
"Some of us will go on to college or technical schools, others will go on to the workforce, but all of us will begin to discover our place on this earth," she said. "This senior class is filled with intelligent and gifted individuals who Iâm sure, one day, will make a great impact on the world. We have students who have achieved success in academics, music, dance, art, photography, science, agriculture and athletics. Many of our seniors have attained honors here at Ponaganset, while others have branched out and used their talents to gain recognition outside of school. This could include joining clubs or leagues, starting a band, giving back to the community, or expanding personal knowledge independently."
Previte said her experiences with the high school music department and interscholastic sports is what made the biggest impact on her.
"For many years Ponaganset has been known for its outstanding music department and I am fortunate enough to have been a member of the Wind Ensemble for the last four years," she said. "Mr. Coyne is an amazing music director who is able to take individuals in the beginning of the year and teach them how to be a member in a group, how to think about the overall sound of the band instead of only thinking of each personal sound. Each year, he is able to encourage everyone to try their hardest, setting the groundwork for the superior ratings we achieve at festival. Mr. Coyne and Mr. Sabatini are even brave enough to take the bands and choruses on the road to music competitions and field trips."
Preveite recalled the class trips to Virginia Beach and the Bush Gardens theme park as well as school productions such as âCinderellaâ two years ago.
"It was such a fantastic experience to see so many students, some of whom never would have participated in such an endeavor, become involved in everything from set design to ushering. Whether you were part of this production, or just came to see it, it was something that brought the whole school together," she said.
Previte said interscholastic sports have also given students the chance to become involved at Ponaganset.
"School spirit can be seen within all of these activities, especially during major events like the homecoming football game. A whole week of school spirit is dedicated to this game, the band prepares their peppy music and chants, and everyone thinks about defeating the opposing team. This sense of spirit is another example of how special our school is.
âAlthough our four years of homework, test, digital portfolios, senior research projects, activities, and friendships here at Ponaganset have come to an end, we must now move on to a new beginning. Even though leaving may be sad for some, our graduation day is truly a joyous event.â