Blackstone Valley Prep graduates first class First class in charter school’s history celebrates commencement
CUMBERLAND – June 16 is an important day in the life of Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee. Not only is it his birthday, but he can now say it’s the day when Blackstone Valley Prep High School’s first senior class graduated.
“What a better birthday present, I can’t imagine one,” McKee said as he addressed the graduating members of the Class of 2018 on Saturday afternoon. “June 16 is a great day in my life. I think the word ‘legacy’ is really important because what you do today will make a difference in terms of what happens tomorrow. It’s just incredible to be here today to watch this first graduating class of a school that we dreamed about so many years ago.”
As mayor of Cumberland, McKee spearheaded the creation of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, which passed as part of the state budget in 2008. RIMA includes the public charter school network for Blackstone Valley Prep and McKee presently sits on the BVP Board of Directors.
“What you started has made BVP what it is today,” he told the seniors inside the BVP High School gymnasium. “And as you head to college, you will show college professors and presidents around the country the caliber of students they can expect from BVP. I encourage you all to do your best, be prepared, you never know when your opportunity will come. Think, plan, invent, create, and most important, celebrate.”
David Jose, dean of college and careers at BVP High, served as the keynote speaker for Saturday’s commencement ceremony.
“I come to you today immensely grateful for each and every one of you…” Jose said. “I can’t help but feel that I myself am a changed man. I’m a changed man because you’ve pushed my thinking, you’ve challenged my own assumptions, you’ve never allowed me to be anything other than my best self.”
Jose said that while his time with the seniors has been anything but conventional, his role on Saturday as the keynote speaker was to give some parting words of advice.
“The first piece of advice is simple: don’t just listen to adults,” he said. “You’ve come to a part of life where guidance is helpful, but there’s simply not enough. Go and make something of yourselves.”
“Fear is a sign that you’re doing things right,” he said of the second bit of advice. “We spend so much of our lives afraid of commitment, afraid of disappointing our families, afraid of being afraid, but life is so much bigger than all of our fears combined.”
“Tomorrow will come and you won’t be a BVP student anymore and honestly that might be a little scary, but with it comes new opportunities,” he continued. “That should be freeing.”
Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Chiappetta looked out at the graduating seniors and said he was in awe.
“We have shared with you blood, sweat, tears over the past year, in some cases four, in some cases eight…” he said. “You have earned this moment. You’ve stayed up late submitting projects, meeting deadlines, you’ve worked harder than any other high schoolers in the state, if not the country. You’ve laid the foundation on which graduating classes will stand for years to come.”
Valedictorian and Cumberland resident Samantha Ortiz-Muriel came to the United States from Mexico when she was 11 years old. She said when she came, she “didn’t have many expectations.” But little by little, she said, she worked hard and was able to celebrate a dual accomplishment on Saturday – graduating and being the top student in her class.
“I’m just very proud of all the students here who are graduating with me, they’re all great people. The teachers believe in us and going to college, we’re leaving a legacy that no matter where we’re from, whatever background, whatever income, we can achieve our goals,” Ortiz-Muriel said.
Ortiz-Muriel will attend Tufts University in the fall and to go to college as BVP High’s valedictorian was an accomplishment for herself and her family, saying sac- rifices were made and her mother gave up so much to come to the United States and provide her with the opportunities she’s received.
Salutatorian and Lincoln resident J.R. Stager graduated as an Eagle Scout who will attend the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis this summer.
“Legacy is something that you can create and make for yourself … What started in fifth grade or joined us in high school helped us as we grew,” Stager said. “One of the biggest things we leave behind is a legacy.”
Stager called this group of seniors a gritty bunch of pioneers, excelling in classrooms without having a building to call their own until recently and being the first BVP High School class to take the PSAT and SAT and apply for college.
“We never had a home to call our own until now. This building will be the stepping stone for future generations…” Stager said. “We still have so much more to accomplish. Our legacy will continue.”
Students from Blackstone Valley Prep High School’s Class of 2018 cheer as they listen to speakers during Saturday’s graduation at the high school’s gymnasium.
Students applaud as they listen during commencement ceremonies.