Johnston High School’s 56th commencement, held last Friday at the Providence Performing Arts Center, was a tribute that all the students had achieved during the last four years and a farewell sendoff with best wishes for a bright future.
Dennis Morrell, principal of JHS, said that the class was a testament of academic achievement, with a passion for visual and performing arts and memorable competitions and athletics. He said that this group of seniors was more than grade point averages, concerts and championships, calling them unique not for what they accomplished “but how you accomplished it.”
“You took great care of each other, in a world where it has become easy for young people to focus on individual needs and wants, the class of 2018 chose to leave no one behind,” said Morrell. “The cohesiveness, the camaraderie and caring this class has demonstrated is something for which you will long be remembered.”
He shared a bit of wisdom, saying that in “real life” there aren’t daily objectives written on a whiteboard to guide the students and that learning becomes more difficult to quantify. Morrell added that most real life tests are unannounced, especially tests of character, ethics and empathy for others. He said that when life’s tests get hard, “always, always be honest,” while encouraging students to talk and listen to their parents to gain insights from their experience.
Class President Dylan Lavoie offered greetings to the class and audience. Saying that they’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel, he thanked all those who have guided the class to graduation. He also thanked school staff, saying that “everything you do is in the best interests of the students,” Class Advisor Natasha Zito for all her contributions, and Greg Russo for helping the school have “the absolute best homecoming in the state.”
“We have failed, succeeded and all of the time have tried our best. I believe we are one of the most outstanding classes out of all the classes to graduate Johnston Senior High School,” said Lavoie. “We will never forget the memories that we’ve all created together.”
Lavoie said that of the lessons he’s learned, one of the most important was that “in life you will fail, what accompanies that failure are license and keys to ensure success the next go around.” He said it was their time to go out there and put their stamp on the world and to make the changes that they’ve always desired.
Mayor Joseph Polisena said the students’ hard work was now paying off and that another chapter in their lives is now ready to be written.
“You’ve faced many challenges while at Johnston High School. Your diploma is not just a piece of paper, it’s an accomplishment of your hard work and dedication,” said Polisena.
The mayor said the students had been inspired by “the very best teachers, coaches and ancillary staff,” adding that the students were proof that public education is the best education, especially in the town of Johnston, and help to build and shape our future. He challenged them to make a difference in the world and to advocate for those who are unable to help themselves, and to remember where they came from and look for ways to give back to their hometown. Polisena then shared advice and a quote he once received from his late father.
“He would always say to me, ‘Go out and help those who are unable to help themselves. By doing that you’ll ensure future generations that this country will remain the greatest country in the world,’” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. asked the graduates to reflect on how they got to this point, and the lessons they’ve learned throughout their journey from kindergarten to commencement. He said students are on the road to becoming an integral part of the community.
“While performing your jobs and establishing your families, you will have great days where you will accomplish much, and days when you thought it would probably be better to have stayed in bed,” said DiLullo. “That is the definition of life, however. What is important is that you handle both of those situations in a controlled, polite and respectful manner.”
The superintendent said it was important for graduates to be moral individuals and that the decisions they make should be made with the understanding of its effect on others. He also encouraged the students to return to the virtues of respect, kindness and morality.
Janice Mele, chair of the Johnston School Committee, offered congratulations to the students and their families on behalf of the committee. She said she saw the future in these students, who’ll soon advance to all walks of life. She advised them to use what they have learned to overcome obstacles found throughout life.
“You can either choose to sit back and have other people dictate your life, or you can choose to take action and work hard to make your dreams become a reality,” she said. “I hope you chose to take action, knowing that it is okay to make mistakes. We all make mistakes, mistakes are life’s lessons. It is when we choose to learn from our mistakes that they help us to grow.”
Class Advisor Natasha Zito planned events, organized fundraisers and assisted with homecoming activities amongst many other duties for the class. She said she couldn’t believe that graduation was upon them and that time went by too quickly. She said she watched them from the sidelines as they took their journey through the halls of Johnston High School.
“All of these memories are tucked neatly into the past four years. This chapter has come to an end and you are about to write the next one, and that will be even more exciting than the last,” she said. “This last chapter has made the foundation for the next one.”
Zito’s final words of advice for the students she guided for the last four years were to “never forget where you came from and always remember the people that helped you get there along the way. Also remember that in order to reach your final destination, you must first acknowledge your flaws, tame your inner savage, and be willing to jump over any obstacles that stand in your way.”
“Now go and have an adventure,” she said.
Salutatorian Matthew Eisemann thanked his “amazing parents” for their love, support and motivation. He said he found himself and his place in the school’s Music Department and that choir and the department as a whole was the best part of his high school journey. Eisemann then thanked Matthew Gingras, Ronald Lamoureux and Oliver Reid for shaping him into the person he is today.
“Now it is our time to refocus on our new goals to achieve lifelong dreams and hopes. We may struggle at times, but we all have the potential to succeed,” he said. “Even though we have taken our own diverging paths over the last four years, we’ve all come together to fit as a whole as the amazing class of 2018.”
Valedictorian Benjamin Budway thanked his mother, father and sister for their support, saying “without my family, I would not have been able to accomplish anything.” He reminisced about his experiences with float committee, the fantastic championships won by the girls’ teams, and all of the hard work and dedication each class member had exhibited. He went on to thank Mr. Lamoureux for his support and said that Miss Jean Picano and Mr. Russo “are Johnston High School” for their dedication.
“When people think about the class of 2018, they might think of our float, one of the best in recent memory. They might think of our All-State athletes or our strong academics. But what they will definitely think about is our character. We didn’t get into fights, and we didn’t cause any commotions. We always asked what we could do and didn’t take no for an answer,” said Budway. “A testimony to us is being one of the state leaders in blood drives. And so, after tonight, when we go to college or the military or the workforce, maintain that strong character.”