NSHS Class of 2014 marks 4 years of 'firsts'

NSHS Class of 2014 marks 4 years of 'firsts'

North Smithfield High School held its graduation ceremonies on the school's football field on June 11. Class Salutatorian Dillon Fontaine, in green, receives a tremendous round of applause after talking about how he has learned lessons every year during his time at North Smithfield High School and now he has to learn how to let go. (Valley Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)

NORTH SMITHFIELD - The North Smithfield High School Class of 2014 has faced plenty of unique challenges over the past four years, and at a commencement ceremony last Wednesday, June 11, the students continued to distinguish themselves from those who came before them.

The class held their graduation on the school's turf field at the students' request, in a last-minute decision that presented a little extra work and some quick planning on the part of school officials, but ultimately gave the hard-working graduates just the kind of extraordinary send-off administrators felt they had earned.

The students were the first to face new graduation requirements, demonstrating state-mandated levels of proficiency on New England Common Assessment Program tests to earn their diplomas, an obstacle they more than conquered, showing significant improvement in all three testing areas.

They were the first class in school history to complete a senior project, an initiative aimed in part at building relationships between students and the community, and it was clear last week that they had met that challenge with vigor, as mentors and guest judges rose to speak about the students' work.

"The class of 2014 has had to work harder and demonstrate what they've learned in a way that no class had to do before," said Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, a guest speaker at the commencement, who had served as a mentor to senior Rachael M. Manzi.

Midyear, the class faced the potential loss of many of their programs and activities due to budget problems, and responded in huge numbers, showing their passion and dedication to their school by speaking out at several local government meetings.

"You don't have to remind this class to get in the game. This class has been in the game," said Supt. Stephen Lindberg. "They have stumbled, fallen, got up, persevered, succeeded, and achieved beyond perhaps what some may have predicted."

Principal Robert Mezzanotte said that the class has earned more than $1.7 million in scholarships, grants, awards and financial aid, and that many of the students will go on to prestigious colleges to study subjects including kinesiology, psychology, biomedical engineering, criminal justice, computer engineering, political science and music performance. Five will join branches of the military.

Ten members of the class have been recognized as All State musicians, including one All National musician, and senior class members helped capture division championships in basketball, girls softball and boys volleyball.

"All North Smithfield High School athletic teams for the 2013/14 school year reached the playoffs," said Mezzanotte. "I believe that's the first time we've ever done that."

"Truly, an argument can be made that the Class of 2014 is one of the most accomplished and decorated classes in recent memory. But what I will remember about the Class of 2014, is that it had some great kids," Mezzanotte added.

Gist said that at NSHS, the students had been involved in some innovative, cutting-edge work.

"You've led the way in so many things, and when you're a pioneer, when you're out there blazing a trail, it can be really difficult, but you all have done some work this year that's going to make a difference for all of the classes behind you. Every single time I come to visit I walk away more and more impressed with what's happening in North Smithfield," said Gist.

Former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, another guest speaker who was also involved in the students' senior projects, said she's seen what the students are capable of, and reminded them that success in life, just as in athletic competitions, is all about planning.

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail," said Kwan. "There's no guarantee to success. The only thing that's fully in your power to make happen is to show up prepared."

Class salutatorian Dillon Taylor Fontaine said he was not ready to leave the high school.

"Since the first day of school, I've thought of how this would feel, coming here one last time never to return again," Fontaine said. "I want to fight the finality of it, to rage against time so that it could last a little longer."

"I loved coming here and I do not want that to end. I assume this is the last great lesson we are taught here: how to let go," said Fontaine.

Valedictorian Ann Marie Votta reminded her classmates to be grateful for the education and opportunity they'd been provided, even when it wasn't perfect, with a quote by author Wes Moore: "Potential is universal. Opportunity is not."

"As much as we all complain about the lack of running water and paper towels, or that most of the text books are older than we are, it could be a lot worse," Votta said, comparing their experience to kids studying in an urban city school.

"Students in the school have the same potential as we do, but they are often set up to fail."

Even those students, she said, have a lot to be thankful for.

"There are millions of children around the world who have almost no access to education. Children around the world are literally dying because that are either fighting for an education or have been denied one. These children are as smart, if not smarter than we are, but have never been given opportunities to improve their lives."

North Smithfield High School held its graduation ceremonies on the school's football field on Thursday night, June 11. The High School Chorus, which included many graduates, sings "I Hope You Dance."
Graduates line up to receive their diplomas at North Smithfield High School's graduation ceremony on June 11. On stage is William Coverdale, shaking hands with Principal Robert Mezzanotte.
Caps of the North Smithfield High School graduates show many messages from being done to where the graduates will be heading next year.
Erin Blanchette is happy to be one of the 2014 North Smithfield graduates.