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Commencement ceremony recognizes
Class of 2011 for perseverance, successes
May 23, 2011
Students in the Community College of Rhode Island Class of 2011 attended school during a trying economic time, one that often strained their financial limits and tested their determination. They were recognized for their hard work during the college’s 46th commencement ceremony on May 20.
Almost 700 graduates from this year’s 1,563 recipients of associate degrees and certificates participated in the ceremony at the Vincent Cullen Field House at the CCRI Knight Campus.
Rhode Island’s entire congressional delegation was in attendance: U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline.
Also present to congratulate the Class of 2011 were Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education Lorne A. Adrian, as well as many other state and local officials.
This strong attendance “… speaks to the high regard our elected officials have for you,” CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale told the graduates.
Chafee said the Class of 2011 has the best wishes of all Rhode Islanders, and that it represents the state’s future. “No school reaches as deeply or democratically into Rhode Island,” he said.
Reed, Langevin and Whitehouse congratulated the students for their determination in getting to the commencement stage. “I understand there are graduates here who have worked and struggled and persevered for up to eight years to get to this day,” Whitehouse said.
Cicilline said that Rhode Island and the rest of the nation will need this spirit to recover economically. “If there’s ever been a time that we need these people, it’s now,” he said. “We need your passion, we need your intellect, we need your determination to meet these great challenges.”
Every graduate has endured his or her own personal challenges and has a story to tell.
Keri Letellier, graduating with honors from the Nursing program, will soon reach her five-year anniversary of beating cancer.
It was her medical ordeal that inspired her to become a nurse, and she hopes to provide hospice care. She spent four years in the program at CCRI. “It was very challenging but I have a feeling it’s going to be rewarding in the end,” she said.
Many students had full-time jobs, family responsibilities or both while they took classes. Michael MacKay, graduating in General Studies, first came to CCRI in Fall 2004 before taking time off and returning to graduate. He was at commencement with his daughter, Victoria, and nephew, Cameron.
“I’m glad to be moving on to bigger and better things,” he said.
Belinda Myers, a mother of two, took advantage of CCRI’s varied class schedule to take courses when it worked in her schedule.
She graduated with a degree in Law Enforcement and hopes to work with youths in the justice system. “I’m interested in helping with their transition when they are ready to get back into the community,” she said.
Fine Arts graduate Candace Canady hopes to work with young people in a different way: as a children’s book illustrator.
“Growing up, I used to draw on the walls when I ran out of paper,” she said. “I came to CCRI because my portfolio didn’t have a lot of drawings in it, and now I have a good foundation. It’s been a long, fun journey.”
During the commencement ceremony, Di Pasquale shared stories of members of the Class of 2011 who exemplify the drive and determination of CCRI graduates, including Paris Fisher, who sold his successful business to work with students in an after-school program he founded, and Melody Lawrence, co-captain of the CCRI Lady Knights soccer team who balanced her athletic and academic responsibilities with community service activity.
He also spoke about Linda Nastari Rossi, who raised two children as a single mother while attending classes and even found time to start her own small business. And then there was Seaneh Vezele, who emigrated from Liberia to escape her country’s civil war and hopes to one day return to help with its social and economic recovery.
Last, he spoke about Heather Kumar, an honors student who plans to go on to study biomedical engineering and toxicology, and Student Commencement Speaker Jael Acevedo, who was born in the Dominican Republic and had to learn English while attending school in the United States.
Di Pasquale said that all of the college’s unique graduates have accomplishments they can be proud of, and that they come together to join a group of some 57,000 alumni that plays an important role in Rhode Island.
“CCRI graduates are everywhere and in every walk of life,” he said, “and you are a part of the college’s 47 years of rich history. You are CCRI, and we know that you will go out into the world and touch the lives of your fellow Rhode Islanders the way that so many CCRI alumni have before you.”
Acevedo said that, while the graduates have the potential to effect positive changes in Rhode Island and the wider world, their commencement proves that they have the ability to better themselves.
“Remember that you represent an institution where people are truly transformed,” she said. “Therefore, you have the ability to change whatever you wish about your life. I want you to use the euphoria of this moment to seek out dreams in higher places. Too many people stop chasing dreams once they achieve one goal. It can happen so swiftly if you allow yourself to become complacent,” she said.
“I know from personal experience that you always have more potential than you think. And that never stops being true. So always challenge yourself to be better and to do better – because you were built for it.”
On Thursday night, Director of Alumni Affairs Marisa Albini presented superlative-type awards to graduates who attended commencement rehearsal:
- Cheryl Ann Gaglione, a General Business graduate from Cranston, won the award for the most years of study at CCRI, where she has been a student for 34 years.
- Juliette Marie Demers, an Early Childhood Education/Child Development graduate from Warwick with seven children, was the graduate in attendance with the most children.
- Ruth Fenton, 61, an Accounting graduate from North Providence, was the oldest female graduate in attendance.
- Ted Nerek, 64, a General Studies graduate from Warwick, was the oldest male graduate in attendance.