Class of 2019 takes on adversity ‘the Novan way’

Class of 2019 takes on adversity ‘the Novan way’

Justyna Rosario points out her name in the Woonsocket High School Commencement program to her father, Geraldo Rosario, before the ceremony started last Friday afternoon. (Breeze photso by Robert Emerson)

WOONSOCKET – It was a long year for Woonsocket High School’s class of 2019, but the challenges made the victory that much sweeter for the 274 graduates who walked the stage last Friday, June 7, at Barry Field.

The class of 2019 has faced more setbacks than perhaps any other class in recent memory, but students did not let these challenges hold them back, according to Salutatorian David Marszalkowski. Instead, he said, student persevered through adversity, echoing a theme repeated by many other speakers throughout the day.

“Although we are one class, we are made up of individuals, each with their own roadblocks and problems. But we have worked tirelessly to overcome these roadblocks and face our problems head on,” he said.

First on the list of challenges was the prolonged contract debate between the city and the Woonsocket Teachers Guild that resulted in a work-to-rule protest stretching from September until a few weeks before graduation. Students, said Marszalkowski, had to step up and take on additional responsibilities during the protest, and often supported each other at a level not seen in previous years.

“It was never about being the best in the class. It was about being the best class,” he said.

In addition to work-to-rule, students faced a number of other hurdles on their path to graduation, beginning with the unexpected death of Rena Fleury, mother of Novans’ football MVP Emmanuel Gomes, after she collapsed during a game at Tucker Field in August. As they arrived at school for senior year, students found the main entryway under construction, while Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center students were detoured to the main WHS building for an extended stay as school administrators dealt with a mold problem. Through all the challenges, said Principal Carnell Henderson, students continued to excel, marking the year through victories as well as hurdles to be overcome.

“Did this class complain? Maybe,” he said to laughs from the crowd. “But you did not stay defeated. No way.”

As the victories continued to add up, he said, including the Division II football championship along with successes on the basketball court, the debate team and the theater stage, the class set a new bar for achievement at WHS, a standard Henderson termed “the Novan way.”

“Anything we do from this day forward at Woonsocket High School, it better be done the Novan way so that you will not be forgotten,” he told the class.

Valedictorian Bridget Damon also commended her classmates for their attitude in the face of adversity, telling them never to let fear hold them back. A track and field star who was raised in a single parent household, Damon told her classmates to cherish their difficult experiences as part of what shaped them as they approached graduation.

“This means celebrating the good and the bad and for me, maybe more so the bad,” she said.

Like Marszalkowski, Damon praised the class’s support for one another and told them to continue that attitude of lifting each other up as they continued in life.

“We have so much opportunity, and I hope all of us here not only lift yourself up to all the opportunity around you, but lift those, no matter how different they may be from you, up as well,” she said.

Damon was one of two students to receive the Theresa Pereira Award, presented to the students who have contributed the most to the class. English teacher Jean Capitumini also presented the award to Mark Dreher. The award, selected by a popular vote of classmates, is presented in honor of Theresa Pereira, a member of the class of 1953 who died shortly after graduation.

The class of 2019 finished off the year in their own unique style, offering a surprise dance number and erupting into frequent cheers in between speeches by Supt. Patrick McGee, School Committee Chairman Paul Bourget and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. Class President Thomas Duft offered his own summary of the class, saying students’ response to the frequent changes of the year can only be described as “ludic,” a word meaning spontaneous and playful.

“I think we can say the class of 2019 made a little bit of noise in the face of change,” he said.

The family of Crystal Luciano-Rodriguez, left, was out in full force and wearing appropriate T-shirts to help celebrate her graduation from Woonsocket High School at Barry Field on Friday afternoon, June 7. She was one of 282 seniors in the Class of 2019.
Woonsocket High School seniors Germani Rosario, left, and Taitum Ozanian said they plan to move to the Tampa, Fla. area the day after graduation.
The graduation processional winds past the football goalpost in Barry Field on Friday afternoon.