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Community College of Rhode Island

Opening Day Convocation kicks off 50 anniversary celebration

Aug. 28, 2014


CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale How fortunate we are to have Jim Flanagan, his wife Linda and his sister Ellen Polo with her husband Jay, join us here to represent the Flanagan family on this special day.

It’s ever so fitting that you are here – 50 years after your father opened this college.

The CCRI community and the State of Rhode Island are eternally grateful for everything your father and your family have done for this great institution.

CCRI is what it is today because of the strong foundation your father laid 50 years ago.

And in his honor, we would like to present you with this plaque that reads –

“With deepest gratitude to Dr. William Flanagan and the Flanagan Family for their contributions to the Community College of Rhode Island.”

Thank you for being here this morning.

Now – Good morning, CCRI! I hope you all enjoyed your summer and that you just had a chance to catch up with colleagues that you may not have seen or spoken to in a while.

Every year I truly enjoy when we come together for Opening Day Convocation.

It’s always a special day of the academic year an invigorating way to start the year off as a community.

But this year, as we kick off the 2014-2015 academic year together, there is even more reason to celebrate.

You’ve heard me mention it before, but this is the official start of our golden anniversary.

That’s right – with the start of this fall semester, the Community College of Rhode Island is celebrating 50 years of educating Rhode Islanders and others from nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut!

You may have seen the beautiful new banners hanging as you drove up the main drive or along the back entrance.

They will be up all year on all four campuses and I would like to thank the Physical Plant for all their hard work on hanging the banners. It was not an easy job.

We will continue the 50th celebration right through Commencement on May 15, 2015.

And between now and then we have several fantastic events planned to mark this special occasion in our college’s history.

On September 15th, we hope you’ll tee off with us in the 20th Annual Fall Golf Classic. It’s always a great day and a wonderful way to help students already challenged by a difficult economy, defray the expenses of college.

If you are not a golfer, I would encourage you to attend the dinner where there will be a number of celebrity guests.

There is still time to register, so visit my website if you would like to do so. I’d love to see you there.

On September 24th, here on the Knight Campus, we will bury a time capsule filled with items from our 50-year history. It is scheduled to be opened in September 2064.

There is still time to submit items, so think about what you may have and bring it to my office.

Another event you might consider submitting something for is the special 50th alumni event.

The Alumni Association is seeking nominations for awards to be presented at its “Celebrating Alumni for 50 years” event, which will be held in March. There will be 25 awards in total. Awards will presented to CCRI graduates who have been active as community leaders, attained personal and professional success and have brought honor upon themselves and the Community College of Rhode Island. Use the nomination form you received in the gift bag this morning or visit the CCRI Alumni website to submit a nomination by no later than Oct. 31.

In November, we will have a Bobby Hackett Theater rededication celebration. More information on that will follow soon.

In early December, we will show a movie that documents our first 50 years. You caught a glimpse of that this morning.

And the festivities continue into the spring semester. You have a reminder card in the bags you received on the way in, but be sure to visit our 50th anniversary microsite for up-to-date information at

faculty 50 glassesAnd on your way out today, in addition to the bag filled with some golden anniversary goodies, make sure to get one of our anniversary cookies and key chains.

I’d like to thank the 50th Executive Committee, Opening Day Committee and the Department of Marketing and Communications for all their hard work in making this convocation so distinctive and creating everything from the unique program you have in your hands to the special mementos you are receiving this morning.

I’d also like to thank this next group of special guests for being in attendance today and representing our 50th Anniversary honorary chairs.

Though all could not be here, all honorary chairs are listed in your program. Please welcome:

  • Joseph Almond – Town administrator in the town of Lincoln
  • The Honorable Allan Fung – Mayor of Cranston
  • The Honorable Charles Lombardi – Mayor of North Providence
  • The Honorable Daniel McKee – Mayor of Cumberland
  • The Honorable Joseph Polisena – Mayor of Johnston
  • The Honorable Henry Winthrop – Mayor of Newport and a 1971 Rhode Island Junior College graduate.

I welcome all of you and thank you for being here to celebrate with us today.

Mayor Polisena has two roles here today – to represent his colleagues as well as embody the 64,000 CCRI alumni. He is a two-time graduate of CCRI – 1982 and 1985 – so as we kickoff our 50th anniversary, I invite him to say a few words.

Now I would like to take a moment to highlight an initiative we began last spring as a prelude to our anniversary – the CCRI Employee of the Month.

This program gives you – our faculty and staff – the opportunity to nominate a colleague who has impressed you and whose work has gone above and beyond to benefit students, colleagues or the college.

Being given this award shows extraordinary effort on the part of the employee.

The vice presidents and I had the pleasure of surprising two winners last spring and we’d like to keep that going. So be sure to send in your nominations throughout the year through my website.

kathleen beaucheneThis month’s employee of the month was nominated for being a loyal employee and excellent professor. This person was described as an “amazing role model and mentor” to other colleagues. This individual was cited as a tireless advocate for the Communication program, having led the charge to merge Speech courses into Communication and to create the New Media Communication Certificate. Our September Employee of the Month has been described as an invaluable member of CCRI and one of the gems that the college employs. Her leadership, personality, optimism, and attention to detail all help make her an outstanding CCRI member and educator.

So it is my honor to present Kathleen Beauchene, professor of English at the Flanagan Campus, with CCRI’s September Employee of the Month Award.

That sure is a great way to start this special year.

So here we are. Recharged and ready to start the next chapter in CCRI’s rich history.

And we do so with some familiar faces who are here with us today:

  • Our 50th anniversary co-chairs – Sondra and Tom Pitts and Marianne and Jack Renza.
  • And representing the 50th Anniversary Executive Committee are Lynn Halmi and David Monti, Class of 1972 and vice president of the CCRI Foundation.
  • Sol Solomon, who has been at all but two of this institution’s opening convocations
  • Some of you may recognize this next guest – He was in the video clip you just saw and was one of the college’s founding faculty members. He was at the first opening day in 1964 and retired as vice president for Academic Affairs after a 38-year career at CCRI, Mr. Bob Silvestre.
  • Our current Vice President for Academic Affairs – Greg Lamontagne
  • Vice President for Business Affairs – David Patten
  • Associate Vice President, Workforce Partnerships – Robin Smith
  • Associate Vice President for Student Services – Ron Schertz
  • Dean Maureen McGarry
  • Dean Peter Woodberry
  • Dean Ruth Sullivan
  • Dean Lois Wims

I want to acknowledge and welcome Jim Purcell to his new role as Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Postsecondary Education. He comes to the Ocean State after most recently serving as Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education.

Before I go any further, I’d like you to hear from Dr. Greg Lamontagne, vice president for Academic Affairs.

I’d also like to invite Vice President for Business Affairs David Patten to say a few words.

Now I am honored to call up this next set of speakers, your union leaders. They represent all of you and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with them on a regular basis.

I’ve been able to work with two of them in the past but one is new to the position. So I won’t make him go first.

I would like to ask Lynn Gudeczauskas, president of the Educational Support Professional Association, to come to the podium first.

Now I would like to invite the new president of the CCRI Faculty Association, Shawn Parker, to give some welcoming remarks. But before he does, let’s give him a nice warm welcome to this new and important role.

And last, but certainly not least, is someone we can always count on to help us start our day. And that is Jeff Heiser, president of the Professional Staff Association.

We also have with us many of our student leaders, and students are the reason we’re here. As I mention your presidents and campuses, I ask all members of the cabinets to stand as well.

From the Flanagan Campus student government:

  • President Gary Howard

Representing the Liston Campus student government:

  • President Mike Palazzolo

The Knight Campus student government:

  • President James Gracik

And now I ask our student ambassadors who attend most of our events, offer help as needed and represent the college incredibly well, to please stand. Thank you for all you do.

Now as you look around this theater, you may see a few new faces. If you look at the screen you will see more than two dozen names of people who have joined the CCRI faculty or staff between last Opening Day and July 31 of this year.

I welcome you and extend my very best wishes for a long and distinguished career at the Community College of Rhode Island.

And if you look at the next screen, you will see more than a dozen people who had such careers here at CCRI, providing almost 400 years of service to the State of Rhode Island.

I’d like to commend and recognize these valued retirees and thank them for many years of good work.

And in your program this morning, you will see several brief stories of why we are all so committed to the jobs we do each and every day here.

Over the past few months, we have been asking faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community for stories about what CCRI has meant to them.

As you read them, I hope you will be as inspired as I was. I also invite you to share your stories on our 50th anniversary website as we will continue to share your memories in various ways throughout the year.

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As I discuss the state of the college this morning, I’d like put it in perspective to where the college has been and where it is today.

In September 1964, Rhode Island Junior College opened its doors and turned the oil-stained floors of the former Brown and Sharpe factory building on Promenade Street into a home for learning.

Today, we have four thriving main campuses and two satellite locations that help us continue our mission of reaching out to all Rhode Island residents.

In 1966, the college established its Associate degree in Nursing program, which was unique for the time.

And to this day, it is still one of our most popular programs. And we can proudly say that CCRI provides the most health care workers in the state.

Though the planning for the first permanent home for the college began in the mid-1960s, the Knight Campus officially welcomed students for the first time in the fall of 1972, with an enrollment of 3,000.

Two other major events in the college’s history from the 1970s – the Blackstone Valley Campus, which was later named for our esteemed first president, opened in Lincoln.

And when President Flanagan retired in 1978, Edward Liston was chosen the next president – a post he would hold for 22 years.

In 1980, Rhode Island Junior College officially became the Community College of Rhode Island. And CCRI celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1989.

One year later, our main Providence campus, which would later be named for President Liston, opened its doors, making higher education more accessible to inner-city residents, a fundamental part of who we are as an institution.

Today, more then 3,500 students take advantage of that location in south Providence.

In 2002, our women’s soccer team captured the college’s first team national championship and like all of our athletic programs today, they continue to make us proud as they represent us locally and in regional and national competition.

Our newest campus, in Newport County, opened in 2005 to help us better serve the southern part of our state.

And while our first graduating class in 1966 consisted of 125 students, the graduating class in May of 2013 was our largest ever with 2,101 students.

So we have certainly come a long way. The college has grown substantially, allowing us to better serve the state, its people and its economy.

But at the same time, I believe we have stayed true to how President Flanagan described the college in a December 1969 Interiors magazine article about the design of the Knight Campus:

“It doesn’t try to be a junior varsity imitation of a major university, but realizes its function and accomplishes it without being tied to the traditions of the big campus. It provides an environment for learning, suited to the youth of today and the future. In a limited time, our students may be exposed to many fields of knowledge … students will mix and be encouraged to search for learning to the limit of their ability.”

And we are very excited to report that the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office have continued to support the funding of the Warwick Renewal project – a total of $20 million over 5 fiscal years to provide a comprehensive facelift for the very building discussed in that article – the megastructure here in Warwick. As always, there are more ideas for improvements than there is funding, but the forthcoming exciting announcements reflect a concerted effort to improve this building inside and out for our students, faculty and staff.

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This fiscal year, I am pleased to report that CCRI students will begin the fall semester with tuition that has remained unchanged for the last three years! How many other expenses in our lives can we say this about?

The higher education system benefited from an increase of $10 million this fiscal year, of which CCRI was allocated an additional $1,450,000 - an increase of 3-point-3 percent.

Though meeting our students’ academic and programmatic needs is what CCRI is all about, you can see that we rely heavily on their enrollment and retention to fund more than 50 percent of our budget.

We were also given an increase in our FTE position cap of 6 new faculty positions. There are approximately 20 new faculty searches in process for fall and spring semester appointments.

50 years ago, President Flanagan opened this college with 325 students and recent enrollments have approached 18,000.

This year’s fall enrollment as of this morning is 16,349.

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I want to leave you with a few more fitting thoughts from Dr. William Flanagan – words he shared 50 years ago at the college’s first formal convocation. And they still remain true today.

He wrote: “No one can look to the future … without a sense of challenge and an awareness of the great opportunity which this institution holds for the future of higher education in Rhode Island. The opportunities for service to the students of our state and to the economy of our state are borne constantly in mind as we begin our college life.”

I will conclude as he did: “May all who are with us this day catch something of the fire that lights our hearts as we begin.”

I believe that says it all; explains why we are all here today and brings our history to-date full circle.

Thank you and I wish you all a great semester.

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Last Updated: 3/6/18