PAWTUCKET — Valedictorian Noelle Cabana said she used to feel saddened by the fact that she never got to meet the late Jackie Walsh, and that the teacher passed away before the completion of the arts high school that was her dream. “But then I realized that she has touched us in ways we can’t even recognize,” Cabana told her fellow classmates, as they sat together at Tuesday night’s commencement exercises for the school that bears Walsh’s name.
Seventeen arts-minded seniors took part in the sixth annual commencement for the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts. This was the first graduation of the arts high school, known as JMW, since it moved from its former home at the Pawtucket Armory to the Jenks Junior High School facility at 350 Division Street.
Cabana went on to say that Walsh’s spirit was with the class when they auditioned for the school, and that it was up to them to keep her dream alive and growing. She noted that there had been many obstacles along the way before the school became a reality, similar to what happens in the arts world itself. She urged her classmates to remember, “We are united under an ideal that we could only imagine.”
Salutatorian Daphne Homen gave an emotional speech that touched on the teachers who helped her to “find her passions” and the friends and advisors who helped her get through the “ups and downs” of her high school years.
Homen thanked her own family for their support and also said she was going to miss “my family of 17” as they head off in different directions to college and beyond. “Be true to yourself and work really hard to reach your dreams, whatever they may be,” she told the senior class.
The sense of intimacy that developed in the small graduating class prompted senior Karissa Morales to buy miniature stuffed monkeys holding signs that said “Class of 2011.” She gave one to each of her fellow seniors and they clutched them as they marched in to the Jenks auditorium in royal blue caps and gowns. “We’re all a class and I bought these so we would all have something together,” she told The Times.
Mayor Donald Grebien, who addressed the seniors, noted that no other graduating class of JMW would be as intimate as this one, as 135 students are enrolled at the school in September. He spoke of the school’s growth and success, and said that the recent approval of a technical designation by the state Department of Education will open its doors even further to students from around the state who want to pursue a high school education focused in and around the arts.
Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director for the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, was the keynote speaker for the commencement. “I’m proud of Pawtucket for offering this kind of program,” he said. “It is truly a leader in the state.”
Rosenbaum told the seniors that, particularly for the arts, “it is a hard world out there.” But he encouraged them to keep in touch with those special teachers who encouraged them, as well as to reach out to members of the community, including arts-related organizations such as RISCA for help. “Go forth and do great things!” he advised.
Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke praised the late Jacqueline Walsh and those on the School Committee and in the city who helped make the arts high school possible. She advised the graduates to “never stop going to school” in the sense of working hard at whatever their chosen field or craft. “Success is not by chance, it’s by hard work,” she stated.
As to be expected, the JMW commencement offered several talented musical performances, including a duet by Tyla Collier and Noelle Cabana of the song, “Some Things are Meant to Be,” and a solo rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” by Elana Khomenko, accompanied by Dylan Titus on guitar.
The members of the JMW graduating class are Kaylee Arruda, Noelle Cabana, Tyla Collier, John DaSilva, Kendra DeMatos, Samantha Fonseca, Cassandra Godin, Daphne Homen, Elana Khomenko, Karissa Morales, Robert Peterson Jr., Jose Sanabria, Emily Santilli, Grace Santos, Nicole Shaw, Dylan Titus, and Kadijatou Wane.