Hope High School’s Blue Wave Battalion held their 20th annual Awards Ceremony at the Hope High School Auditorium to celebrate the outstanding achievements of its cadets, honor its traditions and to officially change the unit’s command to its third female leader.
“I’m proud about taking command,” said Junior Blanca Colato prior to the ceremony. “It’s what I wanted to do since I was a freshman.” Colato is also a member of the National Honor Society and participated in the Rhody Girls State Camp, a leadership camp in civics and state governance sponsored by the American Legion.
As the cadets marched into the auditorium to the drumbeat of the Blue Wave Sounds of Freedom Drum Corps, they were watched on stage by several special guests, including Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi, Principal John Hunt, guidance counselors Diane West and Lynn Harrigan, and Rep. Marvin Abney (District 73) of Newport, a retired Army captain and Deputy Majority Leader of the Rhode Island House.
Invited military officials included Ret. Col. Theodore Low, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army; Ret. Capt. Shirley Hill, a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and president of the Southern New England chapter of the Military Affairs Association of America; Ret. LTC King O’Dell of the Military Order of World Wars; Ret. LTC Ed Glod of the Reserve Officers Association of America; Joyce Stevos, chapter regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and their Cadet Commander Colonel Yuri Goncalves.
Seats of honor were provided to the program’s founder, Lt. Col. Andre Thibeault, a retired Army officer, former professor of military science at Providence College and currently Providence Schools’ director of school operations, and Lt. Col. Raoul Archambault, who retired in 2013 after more than a decade at the helm of the program.
The awards ceremony was hosted by Lt. Col. Chris Corbett, senior Army instructor for the Blue Wave Battalion, who was assisted by 1st Sgt. Alan Kushner, Army instructor for the battalion.
The cadets were escorted into the ceremony by the Battalion color guard with the Blue Wave Sounds of Liberty chorus singing “God Bless America” a capella.
There were plenty of medals, pins and certificates to hand out as scores of awards were presented to the cadets for academic, citizenship and individual and collective achievements while their families watched from the audience. The ceremony was also an opportunity to recognize the unit’s seniors, who graduated less than a week later.
“This unit is renowned for its outstanding cadets, and today you are witnessing the high standards of achievement maintained by the Blue Wave Battalion,” said Supt. Lusi. “In the community, in the classroom, on the fields of friendly competition and the courts of drill competition, Blue Wave cadets are the whole package – they are scholars, athletes and leaders.”
Supt. Lusi presented six Blue Wave Battalion Leadership Excellence Awards to cadets who developed and demonstrated leadership skills. They are Ryan Vongkaisone, Syrislynne Blanco, Alanis Concepcion, Davona Hartley, Pedro Gonzalez and Zhane Davis.
She also co-presented awards, along with guidance counselor West, to seven Honor Society inductees: Blanca Colato, Travis Barbour, Vanessa Gonzalez, Aileen Jimenez-Rodriguez, Raymond Perez, Marvin Salazar and Tarique Vazquez.
Rep. Abney offered an inspiring speech about facing obstacles and not letting them hold you back.
He attended high school Texarkana, Texas, where racial divides were evident. “It was difficult to determine what you wanted to do when you are judged by the color of your skin. I did not accept that as my fate,” he said. “You have to make your own life.”
Rep. Abney wanted to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, but was turned away because there was a quota. He went on to college and earned two master’s degrees and a certificate of advanced graduate study. Abney also had a successful 20-year military career as a retired major in the U.S. Army that included a stint as co-commander at NATO headquarters in Belgium. Abney retired from the Rhode Island Department of Education, where he was executive assistant to the commissioner.
A generation later, Abney’s son graduated from West Point, attended graduate school at the University of Michigan and is a captain in the U.S. Army.
“You have to prepare yourself for your success,” he told the cadets. “Your success depends upon you. You are going to write your own story in life. You have the greatest support system in the world; your teachers, your families, your friends. No one is going to give you anything. You have to want it and you have to earn it.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you cannot be successful in life because of where you came from, the color of your skin or what you look like. Don’t give up. If you don’t believe in your story, it won’t happen.”
Abney presented the Department of the Army Superior Cadet Award to one student from each class who demonstrates a great effort to seize and internalize the core Army values taught in JROTC, also known as the four C’s: courage, candor, competence and commitment.
The awards were presented to senior Col. Yuri Goncalves, who plans to attend URI; junior Dimetri Narvaez, an Honor Roll student; sophomore Abigail Llerena, an Honor Roll student; and freshman Ivan Abreu Mejia, also an Honor Roll student.
The event included rifle drills and concluded with a change of command ceremony, in similar fashion to U.S. Army procedures, with the passing of a guidon or battle flag, representing all the cadets in the battalion, between outgoing Commander Yuri Goncalves to Commander Colato, who stood ramrod straight as members of her command staff were introduced.
The Blue Wave Battalion is the only JROTC unit in Providence and one of just a handful in the state. It is the only honor unit of distinction in all of Rhode Island, the highest accreditation rating for JROTC units. A total of 162 Hope High School students, 18 percent of the entire student body, participated in JROTC this year and typically represent 20 percent of the school’s quarterly honor roll. Seven cadets were inducted into the National Honor Society while 19 seniors graduated.