PROVIDENCE — The Class of 2011's Alyssa Alzate and Alex Collette offered different philosophies as they prepared for St. Raphael Academy's 84th Commencement in the basement hall of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul on Sunday afternoon.
“I'm just thinking 'Don't fall!' That's one of my biggest fears,'” laughed Central Falls resident Alzate, who will attend Wheelock College in Boston this fall to study social work. “Look, my palms are sweating, I'm so nervous! Everyone down here has been saying how weird this feels, that it doesn't seem real.
“I'm definitely going to miss the family connection we've developed. We've got such a small school, and we've got to know everybody so well.”
Noted Collette, who plans on playing baseball and chasing a career in criminal justice at Rhode Island College: “I'm excited; I can't wait to get out of here. We've been waiting for this for four years now … I'll also say I can't believe this is happening. There were some hard times in school. I'm not going to lie: The last quarter, I really struggled. I had to pass all of my exams, but I did it!
“This is bittersweet; I'm going to miss the friends I have,” he added.
“We're going our separate ways. One's going to Vermont, another one's going to UMass. We won't see each other as much anymore, and I'm sad about that.”
Perhaps an hour later, they and 106 others received their diplomas from the Most Rev. Robert C. Evans, the Auxiliary Bishop of Providence; Daniel Ferris, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Providence; and SRA President-Principal Maryanne Donohue-Lynch.
It was quite a scene in the massive sanctuary, the class entered to a deafening organ rendition of Edward Elgar's “Pomp and Circumstance,” then being lauded with a standing ovation by a congregation of at least 500.
In her salutatorian address, Danielle Karcher asked her classmates to revel not only in their graduation but the moments they shared since “Day One” of their freshman year.
“At Saints, we have been immersed in an environment filled with diverse people from different cultures and backgrounds; we have all come together in Saints family rooted in the spirit of faith, service and community,” she stated. “Through participation in the (award-winning) drama club, we have come to know many different plays and musicals, and there's one that has become my absolute favorite … 'Wicked.'
“From this Broadway musical, there is a song called 'For good' that reminds me of the experiences we have been through and the ones that are yet to come … It starts out with the words, 'I'm limited; Just look at me, I'm limited, and just look at you. You can do all I couldn't do.'
“We each have our own strengths and interests, and – when some of us struggled – we helped each other,” she continued. “We not only had the help from our peers, but also from God, who truly can do all we cannot … Our class has made it through so many remarkable things together.”
She explained how the seniors won the “Walk-A-Thon,” resulting in the awarding of a “Bunk Day;” how they captured the Saints' Olympics team title.
“One of the most important lines of the song reflects my feelings towards the people I met here at Saints: 'Because I knew you, I have been changed for good,'” she said. “We can say that many people here at Saints have greatly influenced our lives and have changed us not only for the better, but for good.
“I hope that you, my fellow classmates, have met people here who have changed your life, and I wish you continue to meet people like these … I am sure we can accomplish anything that we set our minds to; if we dream it, we can accomplish it.”
A year of firsts
Following the presentation of diplomas, the Saints Choir performed Jason Robert Brown's “The New World,” and Alumni Director Terrance Murray welcomed the seniors as alumni.
At that point, valedictorian Gregory Pereira revealed they all were now joining over 7,000 SRA graduates.
“Over the years, this class has proven itself capable of the challenges that St. Ray's created; we were the first class to have access to Alumni Hall for the entire four years,” he stated. “We were the first to experience 'Go Saints.' We were the last class to watch 'Channel One.' Our drama and sports teams have performed exceptionally well.
“We were the first class to beat the faculty in basketball, (and) we even watched our basketball team become champions in the first open division state tournament since 1966.”
Pereira then explained how the famed quote from the movie Forrest Gump – “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna git” – relates to him and his classmates.
“If you think about it, St. Ray's itself can be viewed as one giant box, and we are the chocolates,” he said. “God has given each of us our own unique, individual personality – our own 'flavor,' if you will. We have gotten this far in life, thanks to our own originality.
“It was Herman Melville who said, 'It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.' If you succeed by imitating the works of another, than you have learned nothing, and – technically – have not really succeeded. By being original, we can learn from our victories and failures without having to compromise who we are.
“Whether continuing with education, serving our country or entering the workforce, we will all face challenges equal to and greater than those faced at Saints,” he added. “No matter how difficult these upcoming challenges may appear, it is imperative that we do not worry. Whether we know it or not, Saints has prepared us for whatever life may send our way.
“Saying goodbye is never easy, but we know every goodbye implies a new hello.”
Solomon recognized the class' academic award winners in an assortment of subjects. They included: Excellence in Theology, Pereira (Next in Merit, Haley Dalton); Excellence in English, Karcher (Next in Merit, Pereira); Mathematics, Damien Ferreira (Pereira); Science, Pereira (Karcher); French, Ferreira (Carolina Mejia); Spanish, Karcher (Pereira); Business, Nicholas Fiorenzano (Stephanie Stuttard); Social Studies, Pereira (Mike Badzmierowski); and the Arts, Alyssa Allyn (Corey Souza).
Pereira snared the Sen. Claiborne Pell Medal in American History; and among the Moore Scholars were Badzmierowski, Kendra Beauregard, Dalton, Adam Derouin, Karcher, Timothy McLaughlin, Sean McMahon, Mejia, Ethan Sneesby and Daniel Wec.
Donohue-Lynch presented the annual Edith Peck Phillips Memorial Award, the most prestigious laurel the institution offers, to Andres Taborda, who will attend Providence College on a four-year scholarship.
The president-principal also reminded this contingent, which collectively achieved over $6 million in scholarships and college awards, of three extremely important lessons learned at SRA.
“First, every day, and several times throughout the day, remember you are in the Holy presence of God,” she insisted. “We recall this at the start of every school day, every class and every event … Second, live your life authentically; be true to yourself. Never think of yourself (as) better than another because of the accolades, honors, titles or personal success.
“Work hard, take satisfaction in your accomplishments and achievements, but do so with humility. Every day, give yourself time for yourself … Take time to just to be.
“Finally, be a person of gratitude, and begin this afternoon. Take the time to thank your parents or guardians, to thank the faculty who have provided for you countless hours of academic rigor, opportunities for community service or personal, academic or spiritual guidance.”
When the Class of 2011 strolled out the cathedral doors to the recessional “I Cieli Immensi” by Benedetto Marcello, dozens of parents scrambled to find their graduates and take photographs, congratulate them on jobs well done.
“I'm not really sure what I'm thinking right now; I have as many thoughts going through my mind as there are people out here,” grinned Benjamin Doiron, who will attend the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth to further his education in computer engineering. “You know, I'm a little bit sad, but the good news is I know how to find all of my friends on Facebook.
“I'm going to miss a lot of them,” he added. “They were there for me during these four years, those that were kind of crazy. But the future is now, and I can't wait to see what happens.”