PAWTUCKET — While music and theater were the respective passions of graduating seniors Noelle Cabana and Daphne Homen, these artistic pursuits also helped them to carve out ambitious career paths as they head off to college in the fall.
When the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts holds its commencement exercises on June 14, Cabana will be serving as valedictorian and Homen as salutatorian.
The two young women earned the grades to represent their class of 17 at the city's only arts high school. The school moved last fall out of the Pawtucket Armory and into shared space at the Jenks Junior High School complex, where the lower grades now act as a feeder school for the arts high school.
Cabana, the daughter of Tobias and Jennifer Cabana, studied music during her four years at JMW. While singing is still important to her, she acknowledges that “music is a risky business.” As such, she plans to add early childhood education studies to her music major when she heads off the University of Vermont in September. “I also enjoy children and psychology, and I think I might like working with kids as well,” she said.
Homen, the daughter of Jeffrey and Eileen Homen, said that by taking part in theater where she had to analyze and “get into the minds” of a play's characters has sparked an interest in neuroscience. “I found my love for sciences through theater,” said Homen. She said she took a course at the Community College of Rhode Island in biology and found the whole area of neuroscience “fascinating.”
“I want to go into artificial intelligence,” Homen said. To that end, she plans to major in neuroscience and minor in computer science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Both Cabana and Homen credit the small class sizes and personal relationships they have developed with their teachers as being key ingredients behind their academic success. Cabana has been at JMW since freshman year, but Homen spent her first year of high school at Tolman High School after attending private schools.
Homen said she found Tolman's large size to be a bit challenging, and a male friend who was attending JMW at the time told her she might like it better, so she transferred. “I came here with my purple hair and all,” she joked. The friend ended up leaving JMW, but she stayed and has been happy with her choice. “I worry that I might have gotten lost at Tolman,” she said.
“Here, the teachers push you more because they know you,” Cabana said. Homen agreed, saying that while her teachers at Tolman also made an effort to get to know their students, the sheer numbers make it more difficult to have that personal approach.
Among Cabana's many school-related activities, there is one that she says she enjoys the most: debate club. She went to state championships in her sophomore, junior and senior year, and she served this year as team captain. “It was my pride and joy,” she said., of the debate club. “I guess I like it because I love to talk.”
Cabana's other school activities include serving as president of the freshman class, vice president of the sophomore class and treasurer of the junior class. A member of the National Honor Society, she was also part of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and president and co-creator of JMW's first Gay-Straight Alliance.
Throughout her junior year, Cabana also spent time performing with friends in a rock band called Taking Spain. The band played in local music clubs in and around the Providence area. “I got to step out of my shoes as valedictorian and do something different. It was fun,” she stated.
Homen, also a National Honor Society member, participated in JMW's Robotics Club and Photography Club, where she was president, and served as student council treasurer.
Homen's outside activities include fencing, where she competes through the Rhode Island Fencing Academy and Club in Warren and is on the club's national team. She also plays the Irish fiddle and performs in a traveling theater troupe.
What spurs them on to such academic success? Cabana, always self-motivated, said she was partly influenced by her parents, who had her when they were young and who didn't have the chance to attend college themselves. “My parents always told me to do the best I could” she said. She added that, even when there were times of financial stress, “I think my grades helped the family feel better.”
Homen, also credits her parents with encouraging her to do well academically. Yet, she said that since around sophomore year, when she decided to really kick things into gear with her school work, she would be personally unhappy if she got a grade lower than an 85. “I would feel that I should have done better,” she said, and Cabana nodded in agreement.