GLOCESTER – Members of Ponaganset High School’s Class of 2011 are setting out in life with a good understanding of what will face them in the years ahead.
There will be many successes and high points of happiness and also difficult times and feelings of loss.
The 192 graduating seniors dressed in their green and white caps and gowns knew all that without ever having to look at the empty seat in the front row with a photograph and flowers honoring their late classmate, Kristin Barnes. Barnes died in a tragic car accident the night before last year’s graduation and her memory was also marked by her family’s presentation of $5,000 scholarships to three of the graduates, Gabrielle Cote, Samantha Young and Crystal Allard.
High School Principal Sandra Nolan presented Barnes’ family with her diploma as another tribute to the late student. The remembrances were part of what the students will take from Ponaganset in addition to their success in academics, sports, music and the arts. They will carry with them connections to something that goes beyond the confines of the Ponaganset building.
In his remarks to the class, Foster-Glocester Regional School Superintendent Michael Barnes offered that they all belonged to a tight-knit school community and would always be able to count on one another for support. The sense of community at Ponaganset, a school celebrating its 50th graduation ceremony Friday evening, “really transcends generations,” Barnes noted. Students from the school have graduated, gone off to college or other endeavors, and then returned home to raise their families, according to Barnes.
“I want each of our graduates to know that you are part of a family. No matter where you go or what you do, you will always be welcome as a part of the Ponaganset community,” he said.
Nolan told the graduates that their future “is in your hands.” They might choose to discover a new planet, she said, or “become a leader in this community.” The principal advised her former students to “go for it,” whatever that future might be. “Wherever you are, have a goal and keep your eye on that goal,” she said.
Class Salutatorian David Shuckerow took note of the light drizzle falling on the families and friends of his fellow graduates gathered outside the school’s main entrance while promising to abbreviate his original address to a degree.
He said he had found writing his speech to be a difficult task given all that he wanted to cover, “us being the 50th graduating class from Ponaganset,” or even the time he accidentally set off a fire alarm in the school’s gym while trying to switch on the lights.
“Everyone says that today’s a big day, and so I wanted to talk about big things, like the moon landing, or Mr. Buckley’s biceps.”
He settled on talking about his peers as a group of students who had been taught to be “reflective learners, critical thinkers, problem solvers, independent researchers, and effective communicators.”
“I see 192 artists, athletes, comedians, composers, dancers, engineers, military recruits, musicians, painters, photographers and scholars,” he said. “I see 192 awesome hats. Most importantly, I see 192 human beings, 192 people, flowering into adulthood.”
“When I realize that, it finally hits me. We’ve all learned to do so much in our high school careers. We’ve gained so much more than the ability to learn reflectively. We’ve learned so much more than to live a healthy lifestyle. We’ve become so much more than the Ponaganset High School Mission Statement,” he said. “We all must have such incredible stories to tell.”
The ceremonies featured a performance by the school’s Chamber Chorus and Wind Ensemble that offered another example of the class’s success: an original song “Tomorrow’s Trees,” written by class member Rebecca Carroll and set to music by member Jacob Walsh, that Barnes described as a world class composition.
The song included a reference to a vision being achieved “piece by piece,” continuing, “And to us a new world softly bursting into life! Reveals itself...”
Valedicatorian Lauren Corvese commended her peers for being involved in a wide range of activities as students at the school, sports teams, music and the arts, and academics, and also noted their efforts at community service.
“But aside from the knowledge we gained during our education here, we also learned something more important,” she said. “We learned who our friends are.” As the graduates head out into life, Corvese said they will not be able to keep in touch with everyone, but offered they should “keep our friends, the good ones.”
She also told her peers that they might be “apprehensive” about their next step in life: college or something else, but said they’ve already made many changes in their lives. “Each of us has already undergone a transition and no one here can say they are exactly the same as when they entered the freshmen class,” she said.
“Let’s not be so afraid of the future. We can do this,” she said. “I learned one thing in band over four years and that was `don’t be afraid to make mistakes.’” Maybe we don’t have the power to change the world, but we do have the power to change and improve our own lives.”