PAWTUCKET – As is tradition after these commencement exercises, the 10 graduates of Bishop Keough Regional High School recessed out of St. Maria Goretti Church on Friday evening and congregated in the front courtyard.
The seniors formed a circle, then lofted their pale blue caps skyward and let out a few hoots and hollers, those to celebrate their four years of dedication and devotion to academia and extracurricular activities.
A moment later, Mary E. Gingras, who hails from Lincoln, seemed a bit dazed by the atmosphere.
“I can believe all of this is over, but it's surreal at the same time,” she said with a smile. “I'm a little sad, too, because I'm going to miss everyone, the friends I met here, and all the teachers who taught us so much.
“Honestly, right now, I really can't tell you what's going through my mind,” she added. “I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow.”
Gingras did state she knew what she'd do come September – attend the Community College of Rhode Island to begin her pursuit of a degree in elementary education.
“I love little kids,” she noted.
Amazingly enough, this was Keough's 40th Commencement, all under the loving leadership of Principal Jeanne Leclerc, who was the last to stand before the podium to deliver a short message to the seniors, their families and friends.
“Each year at this time, I reflect on how quickly the years go by,” she explained. “In 2007, you were apprehensive girls as you began your first day at Keough … You were firghtened, not sure of what to expect nor what would be expected of you.
“Since then, you have grown each day in knowledge and understanding, and matured into the wonderful young women you are tonight. You have surmounted challenges and persevered, despite the obstacles you encountered, and the journey you set out on four years ago is now complete.
“You no longer are little girls who don't know what to expect,” she continued. “You know you have a mission to fulfill, and Keough has prepared you well for a life of service to your brothers and sisters in Christ. The future looks to you to feed the poor, to assist the sick and elderly, to help shelter the homeless, to befriend the lonely and abandoned, to educate the children and to serve all with love and kindness.
“Bishop Oscar Romero said, 'Aspire not to have more, but to be more.' Those are inspiring words to live by.”
Following Keough Board of Directors' President Charles H. DeBlois Jr.'s greeting, the Class of 2011's Salutatorian, Jaleisa Luna, thanked Leclerc, her parents, family and friends (and those of her classmates) for their many sacrifices over the years, then her fellow seniors for making her laugh.
“We have shared many wonderful moments together, and we have shared some difficult moments, also. Tonight, we will close the doors of Bishop Keough … behind us; tomorrow, we will open the door to an entirely new and different world, a world which will require us to make our own decisions. What we have learned here at Keough will help us to make the right decisions, (those) that will lead us to productive and meaningful lives.”
Valedictorian Samantha Forcier quoted Marianne Williamson, who once stated, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
“We have come to understand the truth within these words, and realize that with power comes responsibility,” she said. “As we stand on the threshold of the future, we must now decide how we will use the power within us to better humanity. There is much work to be done, and Keough has prepared us well for the task.
“We began high school not knowing much; we are now leaving high school with a world of knowledge and opportunities, opportunities that we might not have otherwise been given.”
Following a stirring rendition of “Go Light Your World” by solist Rita Peiczarek, DeBlois presented the annual Charles H. DeBlois Sr. Award, one given in honor of his father and to the senior who best exemplifies civic commitment and Christian dedication, to Luna, who later claimed being stunned by the laurel.
“I was really surprised,” she grinned as she celebrated with her classmates. “I didn't know I was going to receive this. It means so much to me. I'm going to put it up with the other awards I have hanging on my wall or on my dresser. This is unbelievable.”
Leclerc asked BKHS alumna Mary Ann Welch, who graduated from Rhode Island College with a Bachelor's in Administration and currently serves as the Director of Program Administration for the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority, to deliver the address.
She asked the graduates to challenge themselves with three simple yet powerful words: Live, laugh and love, and broke down each.
“I think the challenge here is not just to live, but live fully, purposefully, passionately,” she stated. “The world is full of opportunities, and – when opportunity knocks – it's up to you to not only answer the door, but to throw it open and run outside with passion and purpose. Leave the confines of your safe world and be willing to face challenges and new experiences with confidence.”
As for “laugh,” she requested the young women to not just laugh at a good joke or funny movie, but also to be able to laugh at themselves.
“It's in recognizing that when something embarrassing happens to you, or you find yourself in a situation that gets a bit out of control, you have two choices,” she revealed. “You can either become devastated by the experience, or you can handle it and then laugh about it. The choice you make at that moment may just set you free to experience new opportunities in the future.
“Based on my own experience, I suggest you choose laughter.”
She later conveyed an incident that happened at Keough “many years ago,” one where she became beet red and suffered from hives while conducting a speech before classmates. Because she was able to laugh at the incident, she was able to use that confidently to speak before large crowds in her profession.
As for “love,” she asked them simply to know what it is “because when you know love, you show love. It's my guess that this challenge won't be too hard for you. You just have to look around this church to know love,” she insisted. “God's love for you and your love for God will always lead you in the right direction and enrich your life. Yes, you know love. Now it's your job to go out and continue to show love.”
At that point, Leclerc and Bishop Louis E. Gelineau conferred the diplomas to the small contingent. Among the seniors: Forcier, Luna, Gingras, Tayla M. Accinno, Hannah E. Broomfield, Naisha M. Cunha Cano, Ana C. Grullon, Amaris B. Hernandez, Katherine M. Rivera and Josetta N. Weeks.
Gelineau then conveyed a message as to who Bishop Francis P. Keough was (the fourth Bishop of Providence) and what he stood for, and why the graduates should be so honored to have been educated at an institution named for him.