Blackstone Valley Prep High School seniors, from left, Kendrick Beaubrun, of Lincoln; Denesse Guzman, of Central Falls; and Andrea Restrepo, of Central Falls, were all smiles before the start of Saturday’s commencement exercises.

CUMBERLAND — When Blackstone Valley Prep High School Dean of College and Careers David Michael Jose sought inspiration to impart on the 68 graduating seniors of the Class of 2019, he thought to the words of a late classmate who could not be at the school on Saturday to share in the special day.

Jose recalled the words of Edwin Rivera, a Central Falls resident and BVP High senior, who died on Jan. 1 at age 19 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Jose’s advice to the graduating seniors was the same as what Rivera imparted on him before his passing – to embrace love and use love to change the world.

Life’s quest will often come with conflict and friction, but in those moments of fear and sadness, that’s when love will be needed the most, Jose said. Love, he noted, is a “big word but it’s built on small acts of kindness. It’s not just a feeling, but a choice.”

In reflecting on his conversations with Rivera, Jose said those discussions helped them conquer fear together, and the memories now make him laugh and cry. Rivera would debate the meaning of fear, and his positivity challenged a normally cynical world view, while his propensity for kindness opened hearts, Jose added.

“This is the charge for Class of 2023, be the light in a world full of darkness…” Jose told the 68 seniors. “Carry Edwin’s lasting legacy with you. The world isn’t as dark as you think it is and every light counts.”

Valedictorian Anabella Magee said that her yearbook quote was “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear,” a line from the 2004 Disney teen comedy “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.” She said that courage referenced in that quote is truly representative of the senior class, one that has experienced loss. But she said the class should embrace Rivera’s mindset, to choose kindness and hope over fear.

This group of seniors, she said, is defined not by hardships but by success. These students built a “diverse community in a divisive world,” fought for equal rights and opportunities for all, rallied for issues ranging from school choice to gun reform, and protested a number of issues at the Statehouse and in their own neighborhoods.

“As a class, we are not defined by our differences but the strength those differences give us,” she said.

With certainty, these students will be challenged in the future, Magee said, but the kindness, positivity, and courage they developed at BVP High School will help them to change the world.

“Leaving everything you know can be scary, but the next step is more important than fear…” Magee said. “The thing about being brave and courageous is you never have to do it alone.”

BVP Board Chair and Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa said it was “truly an honor” to be present at Saturday’s ceremony and to congratulate each graduate. With this being the second graduating class from BVP High, Diossa said this group of students is “tremendous” and “a beacon of hope in Rhode Island, that BVP is one of the best schools in Rhode Island.”

“I’m excited to stand before you, it gives me a glimpse into the future for what the future of Rhode Island holds,” he said. “So many bright folks in this room will go on to great next steps. I just hope whatever you do, try your best to stay in Rhode Island.”

BVP High School Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Chiappetta also expressed pride in the seniors, saying he was “so thankful for the hard work you’ve put in.”

“We are just beyond thrilled and so proud of these young men and women,” he said. “We’re so excited to see what amazing things they are about to do in this world.”

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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