KINGSTON — With their families cheering them on, 227 excited graduates received their diplomas at the Chariho Commencement Exercises on Friday. This marked the 16th year that the ceremony had taken place at the Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island, and the cavernous arena was filled with happy noise.
State legislators and town councilors were also present. Sen. Elaine Morgan, R- Hopkinton, and Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond, watched the ceremony with Charlestown council Vice President Julie Carroccia and Councilor Bonnie Van Slyke, Richmond Councilor Richard Nassaney, and Hopkinton Council President Frank Landolfi and council member Barbara Capalbo.
Morgan said she was proud to be presenting citations to the 2018 valedictorian and salutatorian, Christian Sardelli and Nicholas Testa, on behalf of the Rhode Island State Senate.
Landolfi said he made a point of attending the commencement every year. “It’s a great event,” he said. “It’s especially nice this year, because a Hopkinton resident, Christian Sardelli, is the Valedictorian.”
Capalbo said she also tried to attend every Chariho graduation ceremony. “These kids have worked so hard and the school department also has, especially as they’ve improved the school over the past 10 years with Superintendent [Barry] Ricci,” she said. “It’s been just phenomenal what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Carroccia also acknowledged the improvements in the school district over the past several years.
“This is a celebration of the success of the students and the families that have supported them, and it’s also a real tribute to the superintendent, who has managed to get this school ranked third in the state by U.S. News & World Report,” she said. “That is a fabulous accomplishment.”
Van Slyke said she liked the way the district integrated career and technical education with academics. “I’m excited about the technical program and how its meshed in with the academic program,” she said.
Nassaney was attending for the first time, and said he was looking forward “to watching these kids move on with their careers and lives.”
In his opening remarks, Principal Craig MacKenzie referenced the Raymond Carver short story, “Cathedral.”
“In your struggles and celebrations from kindergarten through 12th grade, you have all built a cathedral. You are Chariho Regional High School,” he said. “Your legacy will remain in the walls and halls of our school forever. But our work is not done, nor is yours. Take a few seconds and close your eyes, picture, if you can, any of the moments that defined your experience as a part of our community for the past 13 years, consider what you’ve built. Now open your eyes and share your accomplishment with those who traveled with you. Honestly, It’s really something!”
Representing the Chariho School Committee were Vice Chair Ryan Callahan, Craig Louzon, Stephen Huzyk, Catherine Giusti and Lisa Macaruso. Committee Chair Sylvia Stanley told the graduates that they should expect to witness many changes in their lives.
“My generation served in Vietnam, joined marches for civil rights, desegregation and equal rights for women,” she said. “The next generation produced the latchkey generation. Both parents worked to give their children cellphones, credit cards, automobiles and a higher education. Now, we have your generation. You are technology-wise. You’re the best-educated generation.”
Testa urged his fellow graduates to welcome change.
“Jump at every opportunity you get and make yourself known in whatever setting you find yourself in. When you find your life changed for the worst, resort to the things you know and stay true to yourself to push through it. When your life changes for the better, stay humble and accept your prizes with a selfless attitude.”
Sardelli said, “There will be people who try to steal your fire and people who try to douse it when you burn too brightly. I say ignore those people, and burn as brightly and as brilliantly as you possibly can. Push your own limits, strive for success, and be a light in times of darkness.”
Ricci asked the graduates to recognize and thank the teachers, administrators, support staff and the school resource officer for their support. Then, using videos and songs that were popular during the students’ passages from kindergarten to high school, he focused on transitions.
“My message to you is simple,” he said. “Regardless of the obstacles and problems that you may face, persist, seek out the positive, and find hope in the faces of others. As you move forward to whatever awaits you, allow others to see hope in your face, be the light, not only for yourself, but for others who may cross your path.”
The evening was also an occasion to remember and honor two classmates who passed away: Madeline Potts and Jacob Hansen.
Hansen died from a rare form of brain cancer in 2014 and would have graduated with this year’s class. Potts died suddenly during a soccer game last September.
Among the chairs reserved for the graduates was an empty seat, adorned with a blue rose. The seat would have been Maddie Potts’, whose favorite color was blue.