Cumberland graduates dazzle on PPAC stage

Cumberland graduates dazzle on PPAC stage

CUMBERLAND - The Cumberland High School graduation Monday night was run with more decorum than in years past as the Class of 2013 and their families brought the Clipper blue and white to the gold-filled Providence Performing Arts Center.

But while graduates mostly abided by the new rules - among them, no 3D decorations on the mortar boards - they stayed in the spirit of Tucker Field graduations by making sure beach balls were brought out to play.

While one was able to sneak out during the ceremony and get a few bounces in before it was confiscated, more than a dozen came out after all the graduates received their diplomas.

Almost on cue, beach balls were thrown up in the air by the graduates as others rained down from the balcony where family members were seated. They soon mixed with a flurry of caps being thrown through the air by some of the 291 graduates.

Valedictorian Andrew Harpin called the Class of 2013 the "guinea pig class," who, according to Salutatorian Katie Lynch, has "semi-graciously accepted about a million and a half changes over the past four years."

"Regardless of whether or not our whining is to be believed, I can tell you with confidence that we've conquered these new obstacles," Harpin said.

Lynch got laughs from the audience when she joked about the new venue.

"I feel that I should let you know that no, this is not a musical, I will not be singing or dancing, and you are indeed watching a graduation at a performing arts center," she said. "The exit is that way."

Principal Alan Tenreiro, citing cost savings, decided to move the 119th commencement exercises to PPAC this year among much controversy in town. Graduates also processed into the theater in alphabetical order, without the top 10 percent of students leading the way as they had done in previous years.

Most in attendance would probably agree that some of the changes were for the better.

The musicians and singers sounded stronger than ever as the CHS Band played "March of the Olympians," "Commencement Suite" and "Florentiner March," and the Clef Singers sang the national anthem and Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."

The entire audience was able to hear the ceremony from the comfort of their own seats, something neither the acoustics nor the limited bleacher seating at Tucker Field had been able to provide.

The change of venue this year also kept the ceremony out of the CHS Wellness Center, where it would have been held thanks to a 45-minute evening rainstorm.

And graduates were still able to uphold the tradition of walking over the bridge on Mendon Road before they boarded buses to head to Providence.

Melissa Mardo, student government president, was the mistress of ceremonies for the evening.

She said the class used their voices this year to express their positions on certain changes.

"Even if we did not get our way, however, the Class of 2013 still remained optimistic and hopeful," she said.

Mardo spoke of a class united by challenges.

"The Class of 2013 started the year finally making the homecoming dance happen and ending the year by banding together for Aydan's Army," she said. "Our class may be one of the best that entered CHS."

Tenreiro, who became principal 11 months ago, said he has seen students live by the challenge to "be the change."

They cheered for both the home and visiting teams at Unified Basketball games, he said, and completed countless community service hours. Students cared for others who were sick, sent paper snowflakes to elementary schools in Newtown, Conn., raised money for charities, and "for some time this year, Clipper Nation became Aydan's Army."

"I have seen compassion, trust, scholarship, effort, achievement, hope," Tenreiro said. "I have seen you give of yourself to friends and to others."

That spirit has resonated in Cumberland, said School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu, who spoke of the students' grit, "that internal drive that causes you to pick yourself up, to work harder, to practice once more, to keep pursuing your goals."

"Our community has witnessed the result of your grit through a renewed sense of pride and spirit at our high school and positive remarks about Clipper Blue throughout town," she said.

In her salutatory address, Lynch said her class stood up for what they believed in and rallied around others in their time of need.

Lynch admittedly procrastinated while writing her speech, looking for inspirational quotes or advice ideas online, "since everyone knows that there is no better inspirational adviser than a 17-year-old who came in second place."

But while she said procrastination is a way of life in high school, it will not serve graduates well as they pursue their dreams.

"Every one of us should be doing everything we want to do in life every day," she said. "Why should we be putting off our goals until tomorrow, when we only have so many tomorrows to put off until?"

She compared these goals to a piece of cake.

"Don't wait until tomorrow when maybe you aren't as hungry for these dreams or perhaps your plans have fallen through," Lynch said. "Don't let someone else eat your cake before you have the chance to taste it."

Prior to passing the school flag to Junior Class President Eli Dias, Senior Class President David Rosa also talked about his initial difficulty in writing his speech. But while he was thinking, a deck of playing cards caught his eye.

He told his classmates that while the cards may look better if kept in the box, the bends and creases come from worthwhile experiences.

"Imagine yourselves as a box of cards. If you never open up, you will have no purpose," Rosa said. "You may look good, but that is only at face value. Your true meaning comes when you deal those cards out."

He continued, "Let others share what you are made of, and appreciate the wear and tear that comes with experience."

Harpin, in his valedictory address, told students to live life by doing what makes them happy.

"We feel obligated to quantify success with random metrics," he said, "annual salary, number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends. After all that's the hero's journey, right?"

Heroes start out as a fatherless cub who becomes the Lion King, Harpin said, or an orphan wizard named Harry Potter who goes on to save the world.

"We young people feel obligated to lead lives as fulfilling as these dramatic heroes," he said. "I'm going to tell you all right now that this is all nonsense."

He asked graduates to take a moment to think of their supportive parents, families and friends who have helped them throughout the years.

"Find something you love as much as they have loved you," Harpin said.

In closing, he told his classmates it has been an honor to be among such amazing individuals for the last four years.

"Never stop learning," he told them, "and you'll never stop loving the things you do."

Editor's note: Staff writer Meghan Kavanaugh graduated from Cumberland High School in 2007.