LHS graduates told they learned for life

LHS graduates told they learned for life

Lincoln High School seniors strain and lean into a very wide selfie as they wait for Lincoln High School commencement exercises to begin last Saturday afternoon, and they were lucky enough to get some sun. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

LINCOLN – The next time an older family member comes up to a 2021 Lincoln High School graduate and tries to talk to them about how they used to trek to school uphill both ways and in scorching sun or snow, said Supt. Larry Filippelli, that student will have quite a “hold my… soda” story to tell in response.

These students went through one of the most arduous school years in memory, he said, living with constant restrictions such as mask mandates, social distancing, split schedules and ever-changing events.

The 2021 graduates have thrived this year in the face of great adversity, he said, and their futures are clearly bright, especially if don’t let these experiences define them.

Sitting in the parking lot at the Community College of Rhode Island under late-breaking sunny skies Saturday evening, graduates and their families celebrated at a gathering that wasn’t a sure thing until recently.

Chief Brian Sullivan, the interim town administrator who graduated from LHS 43 years ago, said he’s so proud of each graduate, saying it never occurred to him at his own graduation that he would one day have the honor and privilege to address a future graduating class. He joked that he waited 43 years to do this only to be told by Principal Rob Mezzanotte that he had only three minutes to impart words of advice to the Class of 2021.

It’s just as well, said Sullivan, as few people ever remember what was spoken at graduation. He said he had just a few important words of advice to students, including to always consider their impact on others in whatever they say or do, to listen to others, and to always be helpful. Do what makes you and the other person happy, he said, and always be empathetic. And when students do eventually settle back into a community, he said, it will be so rewarding for them to give back in some way.

Valedictorian Bhavya Chatragadda told classmates that their hard work paid off, and that Saturday was a celebration of all their good work. Chatragadda urged them to reflect on what brought them together and how they were connected through shared experiences.

As students overcame their disbelief that the pandemic was shutting things down, as “grim statistics” began to emerge, Chatragadda said they learned to adapt to any circumstances. They should cherish the time they had together, even those small interactions that may once not have seemed all that significant.

Salutatorian Emily Ariza said it was an honor to speak to the class, and not one to take lightly.

She quoted the lyrics of Nicki Minaj, “And I will retire with the crown, yes. No, I’m not lucky, I’m blessed, yes. Clap for the heavyweight champ, me. But I couldn’t do it all alone.”

Everything this class did was a team effort, she said, and they’re stronger now. All should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Mezzanotte presented the dignitaries at last Saturday’s graduation, giving special thanks to former Principal Kevin McNamara for the legacy he left these students and for his guidance and support.

He said students have made the staff and their parents so proud as they’ve supported the school’s core values in supporting classmates, volunteering, and showing compassion, empathy, inclusivity and kindness, among other qualities. He said they should be very proud, particularly as they’ve been on a journey that hasn’t been easy.

Much has been made of the term “learning loss” since the start of the pandemic, said Mezzanotte, with less classroom time and fewer in-person learning experiences, but he would venture to say that while the learning happening this year hasn’t been the most traditional, it has perhaps been the most valuable in recent memory. Students have had to learn to adapt to difficult circumstances, to understand that the future is never guaranteed, and to appreciate that the well-being of us and those around us is precious and never to be taken for granted.

Students as they leave will have a choice about what they wish to remember, said Mezzanotte. They can choose gratitude over self-pity and use their experiences as a source of personal empowerment instead of sorrow, recognizing the good in the world and taking it to others. What they choose to do with the great lessons is up to them, he said.

Student Council President Austin Balon said they say one should enjoy high school while it lasts, but after the past year of students downloading apps they never thought they would or shaving their heads, he’s not so sure.

He said seniors gained an extra appreciation for their dedicated teachers, who were always ready to teach even abstract concepts (once they were reminded to unmute).

In truth, Balon said, there were times he didn’t put his best foot forward, using that lack of total effort to illustrate why he came in 11th in the class instead of the top 10. The top 10 put in that extra work that makes a small difference, he said.

Despite some like him choosing other paths to graduation, learning in other ways such as struggles and relationships, “everyone here will go on to do great things,” said Balon.

Leaders set an example through diligent duty and they’re people worth following, he said. A couple of months from now, it will be back to the grind and students won’t see the familiar faces they’re accustomed to. He told classmates, in the words of a famous quote, not to cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened.

Senior Class President Dylan Balon said he so appreciated the work teachers put in to make this year work. He laughed as he said the experiences he’ll miss the most are those “fiasco moments” of high school that everyone will remember, like when a teacher took a ball to the face and made students fear for their lives. In the words of Andy Bernard of “The Office,” said Balon, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Graduation night is a celebration of everything this class has done, said Balon. Forget about snaps or Instagram, but cherish each other. After four years of being class president, said Balon, he wouldn’t change a thing, “except for maybe the pandemic.”

School Committee Chairman Joseph Goho, in the graduation program, congratulated the entire class on numerous acknowledgments and wished them great success in all their future endeavors.

The LHS Band performed the processional and recessional marches. Madison Danforth performed the ational anthem, while the Balons led the Pledge of Allegiance. Anne-Marie VanNieuwenhuize presented the class, and Mezzanotte, Filippelli and McNamara presented the diplomas to graduates.

Lincoln High School Class of 2021 Valedictorian Bhavya Chatragadda delivers her graduation speech at commencement exercises to her fellow classmates, teachers, family and friends.
Members of the Lincoln High School Class of 2021 sit and listen to all of the speakers before getting up to receive their diplomas officially graduating from Lincoln High School.
Lincoln High School Class of 2021 Salutatorian Emily Ariza got very animated during her address to her fellow graduates last Saturday.