Members of the Community College of Rhode Island’s 52nd graduating class weren’t afraid to take calculated risks, and they refused to give up.
This – and the determination they showed – became the calling cards of the graduates lauded during Friday’s commencement ceremony inside the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Knight Campus in Warwick, where 1,787 degrees were handed out.
Educational and political leaders from around Rhode Island detailed the Class of 2017’s brushes with the grit and perseverance, and grads acknowledged the praise with long periods of applause and cheering.
President Meghan Hughes focused on the role risk-taking plays in changing the world, and challenged students to continue to find and embrace their own creative ideas.
“As you leave CCRI to head to your new career or your bachelor’s degree, I want you to see yourself as a risk-taker,” Hughes said during her commencement address.
Risk-taking, Hughes said, is choosing to act even when you are not certain about every single part of your plan or even questioning if you can succeed.
The Class of 2017 wasn’t afraid to act, and because of that its members were able to overcome adversity on their way to graduation.
“Each of you had different challenges. You all pushed yourselves to get here today, to earn your college degree or certificate,” Hughes said. “And pushing yourself is really the very heart of taking risk – it’s doing something even when it’s hard or scary or new. As you transition to your next challenge, your new job or your new school, you know you have what it takes to be successful.”
Hughes was joined by state and local leaders, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cottam and Bill Foulkes, chairman of the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education.
Raimondo’s visits to CCRI classrooms and cafeterias have given her a clear look at student commitment to their jobs, their families and their education, she said.
“Here’s what I know: Most of you work more than one job. Most of you are working full time. A lot of you have families you are taking care of,” Raimondo said.
Some students, she said, travel by bus from different parts of the state just to get to class.
“Despite all of that you made it. You made it,” she said.
The graduates erupted in applause when Raimondo questioned whether there were any future nurses, social workers, teachers or politicians in the crowd.
“Rhode Island needs you. That is my message to you. You have what it takes to be successful, and I know that for a fact,” Raimondo said.
The resilience the Class of 2017 demonstrated was learned, said Cottam, who likened building resilience to strengthening muscle.
“Remember you are strong and resilient. If you continue to strengthen those muscles as you did while you were here you can accomplish anything,” Cottam said. “On top of that you will have a tremendous impact on Rhode Island’s economy and culture.”
The calculated risk-takers in the Class of 2017 were represented by student speaker Jazmin Delacruz, who chose to follow her passion for art and psychology after she didn’t get into the college’s nursing program.
Delacruz, of Providence, was accepted to the University of Rhode Island through CCRI’s Joint Admissions Agreement program and plans to study psychology. She later will pursue a master’s degree in art therapy to work with children.
She credited CCRI advisers for helping her believe she could use her passion for art and psychology to help other young people.
“I hope one day to return to CCRI and pay forward the kindness and support CCRI has shown me,” Delacruz said.
When faced with adversity, Delacruz said she and classmates chose to believe in themselves and continued work toward their goal.
“We are the authors of our own story. This is exemplified by the number of us sitting here today, despite the many obstacles we had to overcome,” she said.
In the hours before commencement, the hallways at Knight Campus were buzzing with students preparing to don their caps and gowns.
For Andrea Manocchia of Smithfield, graduation marked the bookend of a CCRI experience that began when she first enrolled in 1985. In 2013, with her children grown, she decided to re-enroll to get her associate degree in Professional Studies, which she completed with a concentration in Medical Administration Assistant.
Manocchia was in the stands last year when her daughter, Jillian Baxter, graduated from CCRI. “I am at my college graduation and my kids can watch me graduate,” she said. “Now they can be as proud of me as I was of them.”
Baxter was by Manocchia’s side before the ceremony. “I’m so proud of her, and I think it’s really cool that we both graduated from the same college,” Baxter said.
Manocchia was joined by classmates Caitlin Marcelli of Johnston and Marissa Marcello of Warwick, the three of whom would be sitting together during commencement and decorated their caps. “The three of us stuck together once we got to know each other in the program, so it’s so nice to be graduating together today,” Marcelli said.
Across the hallway, Maria Alvarez of Woonsocket was reflecting on a CCRI education that began in 2007. She will enroll at Rhode Island College, where she plans to study early childhood education.
She moved to the United States from Puerto Rico when she was 14 and, soon after, realized her passion for teaching.
“I’m very proud of what I did it. I did it for my children and my husband. I did it for their future,” she said.
Her classmate, Jose Benitez, studied publicity and marketing in his native Ecuador before finding his calling in education at CCRI. He plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and to someday become a teacher.
“I learned that opportunity is equal here. Everyone has an opportunity to succeed,” he said. “Everything changed when I came to CCRI.”
Shortly before commencement, Franklin Morillo of Woonsocket was adjusting his Phi Theta Kappa and highest honors cords. He was graduating with an Associate in Applied Science degree with a concentration in Computer and Desktop Technology.
He came to CCRI because of the college’s reputation as a good value and having strong networking programs. He has secured a job at Carousel Industries in Exeter, a firm that specializes in information technology consulting, management and integration. He also will study cybersecurity and networking at Roger Williams University in Bristol.
“I feel awesome today because I fulfilled my dream, which was to graduate,” he said.