Above: EGHS Pride gathered to repaint the rock Sunday after their “Happy Pride” message on the rock was defaced over the weekend.
By Ana Chelidze and Morgan Walsh
For decades at East Greenwich High School, The Rock has been a staple of school life. Each morning as students, parents, and teachers drive down Avenger Drive, they pass by The Rock. When you go up close, you can see layers upon layers of sun-hardened spray paint from years of Senior Night announcements, birthday messages, and school news.
Recently, a group of LGBTQ+ students decided to paint their own message on The Rock. On June 2, the group painted a Pride flag, spraying “Happy Pride!” over it. Four days later, the rock was defaced – a giant “X” was painted over the Pride message, along with the words, “Nah. Nah. Nah.”
Ella Saint, a junior who attended the first painting of the rock, explained the group’s feelings.
“At first I was excited, and I was happy, because, you know, we were getting together as a community to paint the rock. It was fun. We had snacks, we played music, we got to know each other – it was really fun. And I think we all kind of knew that something like this was going to happen, we were actually taking bets on it, like for how long the rock would stay un-vandalized. But it was kind of a joke, and it was really upsetting that it actually did happen, you know?”
Though some were shocked, sophomore Geoffrey Aptt said he was “not surprised by the reaction that people had.” Aptt was one of the original group of students to paint the rock for Pride. He also mentioned everyone was taking bets on how long the message would remain unaltered.
“I was like, ‘do we have extra paint? ‘Cause this is going to get hate crimed.’” Michaela Shunney, a junior and the organizer of East Greenwich’s first-ever Pride Event June 26, echoed this sentiment, saying they “were prepared for that to happen,” and just to be safe “had bought extra spray paint.”
Saint was the first to have seen the blemished rock, sending out a text to the group. Even she couldn’t predict the community reaction, thinking only a handful of people would respond.
“It kind of became something I didn’t expect. There were, like, 20 or 30 people there.” And the support didn’t just come from the students. EGHS Principal Kenneth Hopkins, Supt. Alexis Meyer, Asst. Supt. Michael Podraza, and School Committee Chair Anne Musella all came to the repainting to show their support. “Obviously one incident is one incident too many,” Hopkins said in regard to the vandalism. The key thing to remember, he said, was, “It’s not everybody in this community,” and that “there’s a lot more people that are in support than are not.”
This time the group painted the modern pride flag, which includes stripes for transgender, black, and brown communities, and added the single word, “Love,” across the banner.
Principal Hopkins calls the Rock “old-school social media.” But attacks took place on social media too, in some negative responses by members of the Pride group, including comments that Pride Month shouldn’t exist that sparked online fights between students. Not all comments were negative though, and the group received support from a wide variety of students and parents in the community.
In fact, the group largely benefited from the attention received through social media. As a result, ASAPP (a local, teen-led, mental health organization) started an online fundraiser for the Trevor Project. Michela Shunney, who helped organize it, said, “We were just talking about ways that we could take this and make it into something, and one thing that immediately happened was Miguel [Figueroa] actually had the idea that any time the rock would be vandalized or painted over, we would all donate $20 to The Trevor Project. So, immediately we were all like, ‘Great, we’re gonna donate.’ and anytime somebody does something to the rock, or says something homophobic, we’re gonna donate money and . . . even with all this hate there’s gonna be someone benefiting from it.”
In the East Greenwich School District’s official “EG Moms” Facebook group, mothers of students voiced their outrage at the disrespectful response to the Pride message, as well as their support of their lgbt+ kids, with more than one mom commenting “love always wins,” on Sheri Shunney’s original post about the incident.
For most of Sunday, social media was flooded with posts, stories, and comments in response to the defacement of the Rock, and most of it was overwhelmingly positive. The Trevor Project fundraiser’s original goal was $100. As of today, over $500 have been donated.
Despite any backlash they might face, members of the lgbtq+ community at EGHS continue to have pride in their community.
“Really, all it’s done though is made the LGBTQ community stronger, and the Trevor Project gets so much more money,” said sophomore Julia Erickson. “Her sentiments were echoed by Matt Cosgrove, a fellow sophomore: “We’re like a hydra, you can cut off one of our heads but we’ll grow back two. We get stronger every time we get knocked down.”
In the spirit of continuing on, the group will be holding a Pride Picnic at Academy Field this month. “Michaela and I planned the first East Greenwich Pride Event,” said Cosgrove, “We’ve been planning this since March. It’s happening June 26th, 11 am to 1 pm, at the Academy Field. We wanted it to be a community event with local businesses and feel open to members of the school, very student-driven.”
As Pride month continues, ASAPP and the LGBTQ members of EGHS say it is important to remember that we all belong to the same community.
Despite differences, people may have in gender and sexuality, people have come together to spread the message of love for Pride Month.
Ana Chelidze and Morgan Walsh are students at East Greenwich High School.
A positive response to a negative act. Going to go make a cdonation to theTrevor Project. Thanks, kids!
My name is MarK Testoni and I am a member of the Class 0f 1973. During my senior year at EGHS, four classmates and me were the “caretakers” of “The Rock”. Our signature was DR NST. The painting of “The Rock” started when we were freshmen, by various persons and groups. Most of the time it was just initials, coded sayings, etc. When DR NST took on the stewardship of “The Rock” we wanted to do more. We wanted to bring about school unity and support for EGHS.
During the course of the year we supported the sports teams with various paintings always a bit comical, some innuendo, but always positive and encompassing. After graduation DR NST returned at various times to paint a message, usually to the incoming class to wish them luck. The last time this was done was a couple of years ago and it was then that DR NST invited all of the Class of ’73 to join in to paint “The Rock”. It was a huge success , with many participating even one of our beloved teachers, Calvin Ellis. It was at that time the identities of DR NST was revealed.
Again something positive and inclusive.
So much for the history lesson, which brings me to the purpose of this comment. My sister in law posted what happened to “The Rock” this past week and it broke my heart to see a what has always been a symbol fun, support and love be turned into something hurtful and angry. I left East Greenwich many years ago for work. My career did not allow me to live there but my family still lives there I return often. I always thought of East Greenwich as a beautiful small town with it’s ups and downs as any place. But always a place that supported its residents and was somewhat better than other towns.
I guess I was wrong with the recent desecration of “The Rock”. The young people who painted “The Rock” in a glorious celebration of who they are, were trounced on by an individual(s) who just hopefully had a difference of opinion of what art is. I say a difference of opinion of art, because in this day and age I can only hope that it is not because the individual(s) responsible for this desecration did not do out of hate. A hate that comes from the lack of knowledge of who their fellow classmates, neighbors and friends truly are. Hate that comes from information that is so skewed and tainted that it could only be spoken by an individual(s) with the following IQs, 1 – 25, 26 – 50, 51 – 70 range. It is frightening that in a town of such wealth and prestige that the amount of hate and bias still exists. A great many go to college without ever really learning anything to pass along.
My heart goes out to those brave young people who decorated “The Rock” the way it was always meant, a positive celebration of who they are and the school that they attend. My condolences to the individual(s) who thought that by destroying a beautiful picture would discourage those who painted the picture. My only hope is that the local law enforcement will investigate what truly is a hate crime and those responsible will face the consequences. DR NST thanks to all those people that have responded positively to these wonderful young people who were defaced.
One last thing, to those in the PRIDE, DR NST is very proud of you all, for your message and your artistic flair.
T of DR NST
Thank you, Mark. Perfectly said. Hatefulness and disparaging remarks was never how the rock was meant to be used. Love you for writing this.
I was getting nostalgic today about the pride month activism we did that summer and I decided to take another look at this article. I’m one of the many people who painted the rock with pride symbolism that day in order to cover up the hate crime. After reading this article, I found your comment. Thank you so much for leaving a comment about the rock! Definitely fascinating to learn about history from the town where I grew up. We’ve always speculated how the rock tradition got started, so it’s awesome to finally learn the true story.
And of course, thank you for your support. Last summer we in the ASAPP mental health awareness club held the first pride event in the town’s recent memory. I contacted the other people who organized the rock painting and the pride event and they are all incredibly heartened to hear your story. Some of them had already read your comment and thought that it was lovely.
It is incredible to know how deep the roots of student artistry and passion go in our town. What you did in your days at EGHS was an act of community that the students in that school continue to build upon to this day. I think I speak for everyone when I say that it would be awesome to see you at this year’s pride event.
Much love and solidarity.