June 17, 2010
All text by Jen Cowart
On Friday night, the New England Laborers’ Construction Career Academy graduated its largest class ever, as 34 seniors received diplomas in a ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance at the Hope Highlands Auditorium.
Jay Sabitoni, executive director of the New England Laborers’ Training Academy in Pomfret, Conn., served as the Master of Ceremonies that evening.
“Each and every graduate has a future aspiration. Twelve of you are going to college, 10 of you are going on to a technical college, five of you are entering the New England Laborers’ Apprenticeship Program, six will join the United States Armed Forces, and one of you will pursue a career in culinary arts,” said Sabitoni.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung brought greetings on behalf of the city of Cranston to the graduates.
“I am so proud to be here to honor all of you and your hard work and commitment not only during these past four years, but throughout your entire school career,” he said.
Fung addressed the current economic and social challenges being faced by society today. He urged the students to be agents of change.
Superintendent Peter Nero credited the students’ Cranston education with preparing them well for their future, helping them to enact the kind of change the mayor spoke of.
“Trust me, you are well prepared for college, the military, the workplace, and most importantly, for whatever local or world event transpires,” Nero said. “Proceed forward knowing that in your short lives you have been challenged in school and in life and you have successfully met those challenges.”
Representing the Cranston School Committee, Paula McFarland spoke to the students about leaving their legacy, their mark, on the world.
She urged the students to take the skills and accomplishments gained throughout their educational careers, and reach their full potential outside.
“Each of us has a unique purpose, a unique dream, a unique set of gifts to offer this world,” said McFarland. “You are going to live a life unlike any that has ever been lived before and unlike any that will be lived hereafter.”
The 2010 Commencement Speaker was Denise M. Jenkins, grant programs officer for the Rhode Island Foundation. The Foundation has awarded various grants to the NEL/CPS over the past several years.
Vincent R. Masino, general secretary-treasurer and New England regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, also addressed the students during the ceremony. According to Sabitoni, Masino has been instrumental in the creation and the continued success of the Construction Career Academy in Cranston.
Sabitoni also began a new annual tradition at this year’s ceremony, honoring one student from the graduating class for their academic achievement. This year’s honoree was Mike Sisto, who was recognized for being not only a class leader, but attaining the highest grade point average. Sisto’s GPA at the time of graduation was 3.414, and next year he will attend the Universal Technical Institute in Orlando.
2010 Valedictorian Justasia Freeman spoke to the graduates, including each one of them in her address. Freeman chose to tell the story of the class of 2010, interviewing them all, and asking them how they had changed in their four years and what they’d found the most valuable in their charter school education. She quoted many of their answers in her speech.
She called their journey “A Great Perhaps.”
“This milestone we have reached in our lives is a swarm of emotions. Happiness, sadness, fear, excitement and a feeling of loss, as many of us will probably lose contact,” she said. “Many of us are going off in different directions and today might be the last day we see each other, so cherish this day, cherish our memories together.”
Freeman spoke of the future, when her classmates might one day reconnect. She said she hopes the connection they made would hold true even then.
Freeman urged her fellow graduates to make the most of the specific skill set they were given at NEL/CPS.
“Not all students can claim what we have, so I encourage success to each and every single one of you,” she said. “I encourage you to go off in the world and find yourself, and be the author of your own story. Get on the road to your journey and find your own ‘Great Perhaps.’”
Before handing out diplomas, Executive Director Dr. Michael Silvia spoke to the students as well.
“I am honored and extremely humbled that you have given me the opportunity to play a major role in your development and your life,” Silvia said.
Dr. Silvia recalled meeting with each student three or four years prior, and telling them that his greatest gift would be to eventually present them with their diplomas, acknowledging that they had now reached that goal.
He credited the faculty and staff at the school, stating, “I am only the keeper of this castle that we call the Career Academy. You were privileged to be taught by some of the best teachers and staff in the state.”
Applause erupted for the faculty and staff.
Silvia also credited parents for their support, asking them to stand, noting that many of them deserved a diploma as well for all they’ve been through with their students through the years.
Dr. Silvia left the students with one final wish as he closed his address.
“When you walk out of this auditorium, I want you to proudly leave with peace in your heart and non-violence in your soul,” he said. “Change the world, and make it a better place for all of us to live.”