‘Give yourself completely,’ PHS grads told

Diplomas awarded to 195 members of the Class of 2023

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/11/23

PORTSMOUTH — The one hundred and ninety-five Portsmouth High School seniors who received diplomas Friday night were challenged to always make the world a better place for everyone around …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Register to post events

If you'd like to post an event to our calendar, you can create a free account by clicking here.

Note that free accounts do not have access to our subscriber-only content.

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

‘Give yourself completely,’ PHS grads told

Diplomas awarded to 195 members of the Class of 2023


PORTSMOUTH — The one hundred and ninety-five Portsmouth High School seniors who received diplomas Friday night were challenged to always make the world a better place for everyone around them.

“This day is about so much more than receiving your diploma,” said Chad Smith, a former administrator at both PHS and Portsmouth Middle School who saw these students grow up before his eyes. “On (your) journey, take time to discover yourself. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

In introducing Smith to the packed crowd inside the PHS field house — the threat of rain moved the festivities inside — Class Vice President Nicholas Waycuilis said the administrator has had a “lasting impact” on many seniors.

“They say that it takes a village to raise a child and for the graduating Class of 2023, there is a man that has played a notable role in our village,” Waycuilis said. “Some know him as the Division I, two-time All-American Lacrosse player who led Syracuse to an NCAA National Championship in 1995. Others remember him as ‘Big Bad Chad.’ But almost all of us know him simply as Mr. Smith. Exemplar role models like Mr. Smith have motivated, encouraged, and inspired us to be our best selves. He has fostered trust and respect through balanced guidance and discipline. He has helped build the foundation of character upon which many of us stand today.”

A humbled Smith, who turned 50 three days earlier, took the stage and spoke softly. “If in some small way I was part of your being here today, that’s very special. You’ve given me a great gift,” he said.

He urged seniors to give a round of applause to the district’s teachers, and to thank their parents. “Every home is a university and the parents are the teachers,” he said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi.

Seniors need to go out and make their mark in the world, Smith said. 

“The events that have changed the world have set the stage for you to change it in your own way,” he said. “Devote yourself to raising up those who are around you. I am here today because I devoted myself to you. Give yourself completely, not only to those you love, but to all those around you.”

A Portsmouth Patriot, he said, is loyal, kind and brave. “Each tomorrow is a chance to be the best Patriot you can be. Congratulations, Class of 2023. Go get your tomorrow.”

Student speakers

There were two student speakers — one selected by the Class of 2023 (Joseph Nardolillo), the other chosen by faculty (Clara Alcolea Vila).

Nardolillo said school is a lot like bread. In class you collect the ingredients to make the bread — water, flour, and salt — which you bring home to make dough, which you bring to school the next day.

“Small quizzes, homework, and other short assignments are your small batches that do not require much preparation. Get them done, knead for a short amount of time — it’s easy,” he said. “I often found myself in the library rushing and getting myself covered in flour in order to prepare for the daily anatomy quiz. Even though I did not always give the dough enough time to rise, it still came out edible.”

Bread can often be bland, however, and that’s why he added additional “ingredients,” like playing the trumpet in the “Best of Portsmouth” show. He also played football, even though he was at first hesitant. “I was even hesitant to tear my ACL during my junior year, but I decided to do it anyway,” Nardolillo said to laughs.

The bread doesn’t come out perfect every time, but he told seniors not to sweat that. 

“As we go on with our lives, I challenge my class, and myself, to discard those feelings of uncertainty so we can enjoy all of life’s experiences. So, Class of 2023, let’s get this bread!” he shouted to his classmates.

Vila, who came to the U.S. with her family from Spain seven years, ago, urged her fellow graduates to always be like Curious George. Curiosity is foundational for a child’s development as it “sparks the exploration that leads to learning and growth,” but often dissipates as one grows older, she said.

She recalled an episode where Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat come across a popcorn vendor while strolling through Central Park. The vendor makes the mistake of letting a monkey run his business for a few hours, and of course things go wrong.

“But that’s not the point of this little story,” Vila said. “The point of the story is how important it is to feel that excitement about the undiscovered — whether it be training for a new skill while on the job, learning a new language, or finding a new hobby online. Without curiosity about new things, we are less motivated to seek out new information, and when we become less passionate about learning, we fail to grow.”

She encouraged graduates “to walk out into the world with a rekindled curiosity, eager to grow and learn every day, just like a child opening their eyes to a whole new world in front of them.”

PHS seniors remember ‘Miss C’

After Class of 2023 Secretary Phoebe Tavares led the Pledge of Allegiance during Friday night’s commencement exercises, she asked everyone to remain standing to acknowledge a missing cheer at graduation — “the one that would have been the loudest.”

She was referring to Kristina Caragianis, a popular English teacher who died of cancer in November 2022 at the age of 27. Caragianis graduated from PHS in 2014 and returned to teach English there in 2018.

“Miss C was a ray of sunshine, an advocate for every student, and a friendly face to everyone in the building,” Tavares said. “She enjoyed nothing more in life than making those around her laugh and smile. We can all, undoubtedly, say that Miss C made PHS a better place.”

The graduation stage was lined with butterflies that represented “Miss C flying along with us,” she said, before asking the crowd to join her in a moment of silence in memory of the late teacher.

Caragianis will also be remembered through the seniors’ class gift: an outdoor library.

“The outdoor library will be placed in the courtyard, accessible to all, and will be filled with books that reflect Ms. C’s bubbly and caring personality. We miss you Ms. C,” said Class Treasurer Morgan Casey. “Any leftover funds will be donated to the incoming freshman class to get them started off on the right foot.”

Casey thanked local businesses, teachers, students, and all others who donated money during the seniors’ numerous fund-raisers over the past four years.

Welcoming address

In her welcoming address, Class President Morgan Levreault evoked the Wright brothers’ 12-second flight into history in 1903 and how they later credited growing up in a supportive environment as being the reason behind their success.

“I truly believe that Portsmouth is just that environment, one that encourages its inhabitants to achieve whatever they set their minds to,” Levreault told the crowd. “From Clements always supporting our bakes sales and car washes to Salsa’s restaurant fund-raisers that give back to our various clubs to the residents attending our Homecoming parade, it is evident that the Portsmouth community rallies behind all of us, ensuring that we can be the best individuals that we can possibly be. Teachers across every department work tirelessly to support our dreams and many times their hard work flies under the radar.”

Your own words, please

Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy drew laughs from seniors when he told them he recently experimented with ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot which unfortunately has been used by many students throughout the county to write assigned essays. Kenworthy said he prompted the application to write a superintendent’s graduation speech in 2023.

The results, judging by some of the speech he shared, were rather bland, said Kenworthy. More importantly, “It wouldn’t be right to use those words, because they’re not my own,” he said.

He ended his remarks by paraphrasing a line from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”: “The future is not set in stone. We make our own destiny.”

Paige Kirwin-Clair, PHS acting principal, told graduates to be bold and brave. “Believe in yourself to be the best person you can be,” she said.

Emily Copeland, who chairs the School Committee, characterized the Class of 2023 as not only “an accomplished class, but a caring one as well.”

“This is a time of optimism, celebrations, new beginnings and hope,” Copeland said.

Graduating PHS Band members joined the group, directed by Ted Rausch, on one last performance of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The PHS Chorus, directed by Shawna Gleason, did the same on “Fly Away Home.”

The opening procession was led by Robert Edenbach (Patriot), Meghan Bielski on bagpipes and Robert Perry on drums. Hannah Gianetis sang the national anthem.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.