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College recognizes achievements of Class of 2014
May 20, 2014
Though threatening clouds had been gathering all afternoon, the weather could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the Community College of Rhode Island's Class of 2014. In a ceremony on May 16 at the Knight Campus in Warwick, the college conferred 1,825 degrees during its 49th commencement.
It's no surprise that the joy in the building was infectious; the Class of 2014 was celebrated as a group that had continued to defy the odds of a challenging economic climate to follow the mission of the college – helping them change their lives and achieve their dreams. The dignitaries on hand for the ceremony seemed to underscore not just the obstacles that these students had overcome individually, but what their collective success meant for the state and the nation.
"We are a global enterprise. Dynamic and disruptive change is the new constant," said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed as he addressed the crowd at the Vincent A. Cullen Field House. "The ability to weather that change will continue to contribute to the advancement of the state and nation. ... I'm confident you'll go forward strong, proud graduates of CCRI."
Other distinguished guests, such as Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Congressman David Cicilline, and Board of Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso echoed Reed's statements as they lauded the graduates for seeking better lives through education.
"Tonight we mark the culmination of your hard work," said Cicilline. "And as hard as it was, we are blessed to live in a country where it is still possible...you've succeeded in your pursuit of education while balancing other responsibilities and the challenging circumstances of life. I know your experience here will have prepared you to succeed."
Cicilline went on to say that, although he knew many students were worried about future career prospects and the state's economy, it would be on their shoulders that the prosperity and strength of the state economy would be restored. "Embrace life's challenges and make a difference in the world," he said.
One of the students who certainly already has made a difference in the world was the student speaker, Chad McFarlane of Providence. A veteran who served two tours in Baghdad and was homeless for a time before coming to CCRI, he spoke of the doubtful voices that he heard in his head prior to his enrollment at the college.
"Hey, kid, you aren't a straight 'A' student; you shouldn't be here. Hey, kid, you will probably end up in jail; you shouldn't be here," he said. By the end of his speech – much as by the end of his career at CCRI – McFarlane's tone was far more triumphant. "Hey, kid, I think you should try that; you belong here. Hey, kid, you can make a difference; we need you here," he said.
"In life, we tend to focus on the destination and not the journey. It's always in the distance, the goals we strive toward, and when we get there, it's on to the next thing. But it is important to take a moment to take a look back and see how far we've come," he said to the graduates.
Chafee had a similar plea, asking the Class of 2014 to always keep CCRI in their hearts. President Di Pasquale and Alumni Association President-elect Joseph T. Fleming also drove home that message, congratulating the students on their accomplishments while reminding them that they now join a group 62,000 strong – graduates who they hoped would continue to encourage others to come to the college while also continuing to support its mission with their words and actions.
"We know you will continue to make us proud by overcoming the challenges that you face. Class of 2014, there is so much for you to do, and the world is ready for you," said DiPasquale.
Students from a group of backgrounds as diverse as their academic interests prepared for the ceremony in the afternoon on the sixth floor, gathering together for smiling photos and congratulatory hugs and handshakes as they put on their caps and gowns.
Student Heebe-Tee-Tse Lee of Providence, who was about to receive his Associate in Fine Arts degree, sat snacking on Swedish Fish with a calm that belied his excitement as he detailed the various items he was wearing and what they meant to him: pins representing his leadership status in Phi Theta Kappa; sashes, cords and stoles denoting his academic achievements; and a beaded medallion that he made in the CCRI colors to represent his Narragansett and Shinnecock heritage.
After spending time unsure of his next step, it was a colleague at the Providence Public Library, where he worked part time, who convinced him that continuing with his education at CCRI was an essential step forward. Now, he is on the wait list for Brown University and will be continuing on to get his bachelor's no matter the outcome.
"I just can't believe it's here. It just seems like it was yesterday that I applied to CCRI. I'm very happy and very proud and also just nervous for the next journey that lies ahead," he said.
Lee wasn't the only one who had made custom alterations to his regalia. The graduates from the Dental Health programs were resplendent in pink sequins, rhinestones and other baubles they'd applied to their mortarboards.
Melanie Bonin of Warwick had sculpted a model of a tooth that sat atop her cap, joined by a bouncing cutout of a tooth on a spring and hanging tooth ornaments all along the sides.
"We all decided we were going to decorate our hats and I decided I was going to really decorate my hat," she said, pointing out the gleeful phrase stenciled along the top: "HOLY MOLAR, I DID IT." She said the next hurdle for her along with her classmates was applying for state licensure.
Student Mark Braden, a General Studies major from Johnston, had augmented his gown in something more understated, though no less personal. He had stapled a color picture of himself alongside his wife, Becky, and Bailey, his daughter. After 22 years of military service, he returned to CCRI to continue his education, and will go on to the University of Rhode Island to study mass communications.
"Seeing all my students and veterans, I know we did it. We did it – not just one person. And our family and friends who are going to honor us today, they're the ones who made the sacrifices. The long nights where we're complaining about a test, they're the ones calming us down, reassuring us," he said.
Graduation was also a family affair for Joyce Campbell and Mariah Sweet, a mother-daughter pair from Narragansett. They both were toting elaborately decorated caps; Campbell's featured her favorite books, while her daughter's featured her accomplishments presented as a scene from the Game of Life.
Campbell, who suffers from dyslexia, was unable to read an entire book for some time. She was in her mid-30s when she was finally able to read the first Harry Potter book to Sweet. Now, she will go on to study English at URI, and hopes to be a teacher someday. Sweet will go on to Rhode Island College to prepare to be an elementary educator.
Paralegal Studies student Kimberly Derita of Coventry, who was also graduating with a family member – her sister, Lesley Bassett, is a graduate of the Nursing program – has had a long journey at the college. She has been attending classes for 19 years while working full time, looking to change the course of her career from retail management to law.
"I wanted to cry yesterday," she said. "It feels enormously wonderful to graduate finally."