Undergrad degree recipients urged to live life “standing up and engaged”

(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)

(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)
Cool and overcast throughout the morning, the sun finally poked just as noon ticked by and RIC’s 157th commencement was about to end. Call it a metaphor, a sign of brighter days ahead, or simply a lucky break in the clouds, but the warm turn in the weather complemented the smiles and cheers of the candidates who became graduates on May 21, when RIC conferred 1,214 undergraduate degrees from the college’s five schools.

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Some of the 1,214 grads receiving undergraduate degrees this spring.
The sense of joy was reflected all along the quad, where the new grads, including elementary education majors Rebecca Bessette, who was “really excited to be done” and Lindsey Bertrand, who optimistically said, “I’m glad it’s not raining,” were among the first to file across the steps outside the Murray Center and be announced as degree recipients.

Martha Farrell, 57, also crossed the steps of Murray, despite dealing with years of physical difficulties, most recently myasthenia gravis, her second autoimmune disease affliction. Farrell graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Social Work, continuing a family tradition of RIC grads that includes her eldest daughter and her son. Farrell’s second daughter has just completed her sophomore year at RIC.

Commencement speaker Thomas Cobb, a retiring RIC professor, was awarded a Presidential Medal from RIC, an honor given for special distinction within the college community. Cobb, whose novel “Crazy Heart,” was adapted into a popular film that earned two Academy Awards in 2010, told the grads that “failure is an important part of achieving success.”

“Sometimes we can’t tell success from failure because we see it from the wrong perspective,” Cobb said. “Edison said that he never failed, he just discovered 10,000 things that didn’t work. And then he discovered some things that did. Samuel Becket the Irish novelist and playwright said, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’”

Honorary degree recipient Craig Stenning, left, and RIC professor Thomas Cobb, who received a Presidential Medal, sit on the dais. Patricia Martinez, left, and Sandra Powell, who each received honorary degrees two days earlier at the advanced-degree commencement, are in back.
An honorary Doctor of Health Sciences degree was presented to Craig Stenning, director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. Stenning is a longtime local advocate for those with developmental disabilities, mental health and substance abuse issues, and chronic medical and psychiatric conditions.

Lorne Adrain, the new chair of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, exhorted the grads to live life “standing up and engaged.” He added that “our great calling” is to change the world. “Each and every one of you has something surprising, something wonderful, beneath those caps and gowns.”

Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo urged the college’s newest alumni to follow RIC’s motto of Reach, Inspire and Connect. “When you have achieved your goals – whatever they may be – remember to circle back and be a role model who inspires others.”

Elected officials dotted the dais at commencement. Carriuolo explained that because the RIC campus is located both in Providence and North Providence, the college has the advantage of having two congressional representatives (David Cicilline and James Langevin ’90 HD ’04), whose districts are divided along that same boundary line, and two mayors (Angel Taveras of Providence and Charles Lombardi of North Providence).

Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks to the graduating seniors.

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo confers bachelor's degrees.
All were in attendance and addressed the audience, as did Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who recounted some of his grandfather’s aphorisms. One was, “Never insult the crocodile before you cross the stream,” which were also valuable words in the State House.

In closing his remarks, Taveras, Providence’s first Hispanic mayor, spoke in Spanish and lauded both the graduates and parents in achieving a college degree.

Carriuolo shared a letter to the class of 2011 from President Obama, in which he stated that “In America, you are the author of your own destiny.” Obama appeared at RIC in March of 2008 to speak at rally while he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

She also asked graduating veterans of the U.S. military and their family members to stand up and be recognized. This year, RIC began honoring those connected to military service with a special pin.

Jason Anthony, president of the RIC Alumni Association, inducts the new grads into the association.

Patricia Maciel of the class of 1961 addresses the audience.
Some of the members of the 50th anniversary class of 1961 attended the commencement, including Patricia Ross Maciel, who noted that the Golden Anniversary class was the first to graduate from then-recently named Rhode Island College, on a new campus that held just six buildings.

Maciel presented a check for nearly $44,000 to Carriuolo for a scholarship fund for students in the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development.

After degrees were conferred, Jason Anthony ’99, president of the RIC Alumni Association, inducted the graduates into the Alumni Association. He asked that they support RIC “politically, financially and with great spirit.”

A plaque honoring the class of 1961 will be installed on the gates at the Mt. Pleasant Avenue entrance to the campus, while, across campus, a plaque for the 2011 class will be affixed to the gates at the Fruit Hill Avenue entrance.

RIC’s advanced-degree commencement was held on May 19 in the Murray Center.