PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For the graduates at The Prout School’s Class of 2021 commencement ceremony Tuesday, the scaffolding around the outside of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul offered a lesson.
While life is often marked by change that might not always be pretty, what comes after is stronger and more resilient.
It’s a lesson the Prout seniors and others across the country learned during a senior year marked by huge changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Prout held in-person classes for much of the year, the school had to make adjustments for remote learning, social distancing, masking and much more that none of the seniors expected when they were starting as freshmen at the Catholic college preparatory high school in Wakefield.
The year of restrictions made the tight-knit group appreciate even more the chance to gather at the cathedral for a mostly “traditional” graduation, but there were still modifications to be made. Families were spaced with empty pews between them. Face masks were accessories to the caps and gowns the graduates wore — white for girls, and maroon for the boys.
The Most Rev. Robert C. Evans, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Providence, led the academic procession for the school’s 53rd commencement. The Rev. Carl Fisette offered the invocation, giving thanks to God “for the many gifts and blessings that you have given to these young men and women during their time at Prout School.”
The Prout School’s principal, David J. Estes, made welcoming remarks. It was also a special night for Estes, because his son John was one of the graduates. In her welcome address, senior Kate Conforti recounted how four years ago at a Prout open house she told her mom “there was no way I would come here,” she said.
“I never would have thought that this was where I would be four years later, looking at 100 of my fellow Crusaders whom I love so much,” she said. “Now, I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I’d gone somewhere else.”
Conforti reviewed the past four years, and how as freshmen they learned to live every day to the fullest.
“Because who knows, maybe we’d be featured in a ‘Today in History’ presentation.”
Then there was learning the difference between ionic and covalent bonds as sophomores.
“It’s OK, I kind of forget what those are too,” she said.
Junior year was a time to step up and start thinking about the future.
“And then, all of a sudden, everything came to a screeching halt. We thought the world was ending, and we were confined to our bedrooms, alone, separated from each other and very much away from the Prout environment,” she said.
But in the four tough months of remote learning as juniors, the class came to realize the importance of being together as seniors.
“I am so proud of the way we pulled together as a class this year,” she said. “We hear teachers say it all the time: the thing that makes Prout special is the students.”
The school presented diplomas to the graduates in a unique way, in mid-ceremony rather than near its conclusion. Also, class advisers read a short list of the accomplishments and activities of each senior as the graduate accepted their diploma.
Taken as a whole, the list shows a wide array of academic, athletic, artistic and community involvement by the Class of 2021.
A few included Prout Theater, Model Legislature, varsity volleyball and lacrosse, soccer and track, Cathedral Square Ministries volunteer, and South County Hospital volunteer.
The graduates will go on to attend a wide array of colleges, academies and state institutions of higher learning. Among them are Yale, West Point and the University of Rhode Island. One will study overseas in Germany and another will take a “gap year” to work.
The school also recognized 13 graduates who are prestigious International Baccalaureate candidates.
Class President Olivia Barber led the class in the tassel flipping ceremony, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance, while senior Kasey Regan sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Barber read a letter she wrote to herself as a freshman.
“Going to wherever the rest of your life leads, remember that once, you were a freshman writing this letter. You were great then and you’ll be even better now,” she wrote.
In his farewell speech, Michael Garman recalled how, when he ran for re-election to class office in the spring of his sophomore year, he promised to abolish uniforms and make Fridays optional.
“It only took six months in office and a health crisis to make that pledge a reality,” he said. On a more serious note, he said, the class had won divisional and state athletic championships, been honored for outstanding performance in the visual and performing arts, and distinguished itself by its dedication to and creativity in Christian service. International Baccalaureate candidates organized a range of projects from traditional canned food drives to more unconventional projects such as a physical fitness challenge to raise money to buy iPads for autistic children, Garman said.
“Prout has always encouraged us to work for positive change and make our voices heard,” he said. “Regardless of where life takes us, we will always be committed to these ideals.”
In addition to the standard “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Prout School band directed by Ryan Cox and Philip Farone performed “Chasing Sunlight,” by Cait Nishimura. The piece, the composer says, is a reminder that, “just as the sun will always set, humans must accept the impermanence of all things in life, and make the most of every opportunity before it has passed.”
The Prout Crusader Award was presented to Drew Brouillette, who will attend West Point. Estes called Brouillette “a natural leader” involved in athletics, student government and volunteer work.
The Elizabeth Prout Award went to Conforti, whom Estes called “a student ambassador” who “runs about half the things we do at The Prout School. I don’t know what we’ll do without her.”
Estes said that in this unusual pandemic year, the class responded like no other class has before.
“What happened was, you taught us things this year,” he said. “Lessons on teaching, lessons on caring, lessons on saying goodbye and lessons about always moving forward.”