They persevered: BHS 2021 grads celebrate victories, coming together through adversity

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BURRILLVILLE – It was am emotional ceremony celebrating a class of students that stayed strong and showed character through challenges faced by no other class that came before.

Burrillville High School held its 120th commencement on Saturday, June 12, with a focus by both students and administrators on acknowledging the graduates’ resilience, determination and support for one another in the face of disruption by a global pandemic.

“If this year has taught us anything, it is to make the best of every situation you are thrown into,” said Class President Caroline Fox, remembering how she would meet with friends in the school parking lot at the height of pandemic restrictions, and distance learn together by working from the trunks of their cars. ‘We should not go down as the class that missed out on the most, but the class that came together. I know the odds are better for your success because of what we did this past year.”

The graduates line up.

Principal Michael Whaley described the year as the most difficult of his career.

“I love and respect this class as much as I have any in my career,” said Whaley. “This class is calm, cool and collected.”

As the 166 graduating seniors celebrated the move toward their futures, Whaley told them, “I hope you show the same passion and resilience that you have all year.”

Supt. Michael Sollitto noted that every graduating class in Burrillville has had its own identity. Resilient, he said, is the best word to describe this year’s group of graduates.

‘What a journey,” Sollitto said, noting that the virus, “impacted senior year in a way that other classes have never experienced.”

“Remember that with graduation comes responsibility as a citizen,” Sollitto said. “I urge you to remain resilient.”

Graduate Collin Boisvert holds his diploma.

Burrillville Town Council President Donald Fox, the father of class president Caroline Fox, noted that both the remote learning skills, and the lessons the year had taught them, would serve the students well.

“You’re not just any graduating class, and you never will be after this year,” said Fox. “You adapted and you moved forward.”

The students, Fox noted, had the chance to learn the value of face-to-face interaction and life outside a screen.

“You just might enjoy that visit with your grandparents a little bit more,” Fox said. “Use it to be a better person on whatever path you set out for yourself.”

School Committee Chairwoman Alexandra LeClair also acknowledged the students’ adaptability.

“This group of students didn’t waiver,” LeClair said. “You conquered your years in Burrillville.”

Salutatorian Hannah Eaton pointed to a quote from Winston Churchill exemplifying the students: If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Salutatorian Hannah Eaton

“We persevered through the changes,” Eaton said. “Our world will be a better place because we continued to persevere.”

Valedictorian Jack Corrao remembered the difficulty of when the students were finally allowed to learn in person after months apart, only to face masks and more restrictions.

“You have all grown and achieved so much over the past several years,” Corrao said.

Valedictorian Jack Corrao

Whaley announced winners of the Bronco Award, which recognizes students who showed leadership and contributed the most to their community during their time at BHS.

He said when pandemic restrictions forced the class to think up new and safe ways to mark their rights of passage, one winner, Class President Fox, stepped up.

School Committee Chairwoman Alexandra LeClair, at right, listens as Caroline Fox addresses the crowd.

“This student had a ton of ideas and I kept getting emails from her,” Whaley said. “She’s been one of the best class presidents I’ve had the privilege of working with.

Of winner and senior class poet John Libby, he said, “Four years ago a man stood before me and he had no doubt he would be a Bronco Award winner. He is constantly thinking how he can give back to the school community.”

Whaley described the final Bronco Award winner, Samantha Mansolf, as, “kind and caring.”

“Samantha has been driven to make Burrillville High School a better place,” Whaley said. “She truly cares about her school and community.”

For the group gathered Saturday on the football field, the in-person commencement marked a true celebration for a deserving group of seniors.

“It’s never good when I go off script but isn’t this great?” Whaley asked. “We’re all here together celebrating without masks. I’m so happy that we are here together and able to celebrate this class.”

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