BVP’s first graduating class braves the unknown, finishes strong

BVP’s first graduating class braves the unknown, finishes strong

Serena Lincoln, 17, of Cumberland, has her cap fashioned like the Statue of Liberty at the Blackstone Valley Prep High School’s first-ever graduation, held at the school last Saturday. (Breeze photos by Bill Murphy)

CUMBERLAND – The new building Blackstone Valley Prep High School calls home has seen classes taught and meals shared since its doors opened last November. Members of the inaugural group of BVP graduates were pleased – and very proud – to oblige one final milestone.

Last Saturday, the Class of 2018 entered the Cumberland public charter school’s gleaming gym as seniors and left as graduates, bound for colleges across New England and beyond.

Delivering a hearty “bienvenidos and welcome,” BVP CEO Jeremy Chiappetta told the 57-member group, “You’ve earned this one … You have laid the foundation on which graduating classes will stand for years to come.”

Dressed in navy blue with gold-capped sleeves, the school’s first high school graduates beamed as parents, peers, and supportive faculty applauded the pioneers.

Through tumult and transition – shuffling buildings as many as 10 times since entering the BVP system in 5th grade – the students braved the storm, emerging as scholars, said their leaders.

Student James McKee took the stage. After a resounding, “Happy birthday!” from his classmates, he introduced his uncle, Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, the founder of the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academies who was celebrating his own birthday as well.

The former Cumberland mayor recalled a day in his office years ago, discussing what it would look like to “start a school from a blank sheet of paper.”

“A better birthday present, I can’t imagine one,” he said of marking BVP’s first graduation. “As you head to college, you will show professors and presidents the caliber of students they can expect from Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academies.”

At BVP, college is held up as the overarching goal from the time students first enter the schools. The schools draw students from Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland and Lincoln.

JR Stager, who will join the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall, delivered the scholastic address after applying to do so as one of the top 10 students and winning. Tipping his cap toward his classmates ready to accept their diplomas, he named another student battling illness, Edwin Rivera, who could not attend the ceremony.

Stager remembered back to his days as a 5th-grader, learning in the basement of Fatima Church. Those days crested toward academic excellence as BVP seniors posted some of the highest standardized test scores among charter schools in the state, according to a 2017 Stanford University study. Eight seniors completed college courses through the Running Start program as well.

All the while, they defined their role as pioneers, Stager noted, adding, “Legacy is something you can create and make for yourself … We’ve been able to write our own story, one of success.”

Student Michael Correa then introduced keynote speaker, David Michael Jose, dean of College and Careers. A booming chorus of cheers and a standing ovation greeted him at the mic as he addressed the students more as friends, commending their dedication and celebrating the achievements they’ve won – together.

“I come to you today immensely grateful for each and every one of you,” Jose said. “For our collective capacity to dream big … to stand up for each other and desire to leave a legacy.”

Jose called himself a changed man as well – and not because the seniors guilted him into getting a puppy – but because, “you never once allowed me to be anything but my best self.”

As these young pioneers enter the “real world,” Jose encouraged them to question advice as a means to ultimately trust themselves, and recognize fear is a sign they’re doing things right.

Calling to poet T.S. Elliot, Jose said, “There really is only one reality we live in: the here and now … The life you have is wholly yours. Rejoice in that. Shape the life you have into the one that you want.”

He added, “My heart is overflowing with joy anticipating what comes next for all of you. Now, go out – hustle the world – with love.”

Founding BVP math teacher and the school’s current director of innovation and accountability, Drew Madden, followed with the name of each graduate.

Decorated with glittering caps, and with a wealth of swagger to match the swell of support in the room, each senior collected a fresh-pressed diploma.

Head of School Michaela Keegan directed the group to flip their tassels to the left, and then delivered one last gift. In small boxes beneath their seats, each new graduate found an anchor charm. Keegan explained the anchor is a symbol of hope. As the seal of Rhode Island and of BVP, it marks their roots. It is especially a tool for sailors to steady their ships in choppy seas, she explained.

“May this anchor we give you today remind you of the strength that lives in each and every one of you,” Keegan said. “It is a reminder to you, like sailors, to stay grounded.”

Fola Adebayo, right, receives the first-ever diploma from Blackstone Valley Prep High School. He was given the diploma from David Jose, dean of College and Careers, at the school’s inaugural commencement, held at the school last Saturday.
From left, Michael Ajuhan, of Central Falls, signs a yearbook as Jazmine Arbloeda, of Pawtucket, and Lisa Arias, of Central Falls, look on before the start of the Blackstone Valley Prep High School graduation.