Saturday May 26, 2012

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. -- Viola Davis addressed graduating seniors Thursday at the high school in the struggling 1.3-square-mile city of 19,000 just north of Providence where she grew up, urging them to treasure "hard times and joyous moments" and telling them that the "privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."

The Oscar-nominated actress from the film "The Help" spoke to Central Falls High School’s class of 2012, student act ors and members of student government and other alumni nearly 30 years after receiving her own diploma there. She was also inducted into the school’s Alumni Hall of Fame.

"Make your mark Š you have it in you," Davis told students on a stage where she once acted.

Davis donated $1,000 last year to the Central Falls library -- which had temporarily closed because of finances.

She recounted a time in third grade when a classmate kept calling her "the N-word," prompting her to try to best him in some way. He was known as the fastest boy in Central Falls, so she challenged him to a race.

She worried as recess ap proached -- her shoes were a size and a half too small and her socks had holes -- and she wondered how she’d be able to run fast.

"I did what any self-respecting girl would have done: I took my shoes off," she said.

The race was a tie. But, she said, "you gotta be in the race, no matter what, win or lose."