On Journey to Graduation, They Persevered through Life’s Obstacles

From left, RIC seniors Brittany Williams, William Poland and Lelia Noble

From left, RIC seniors Brittany Williams, William Poland and Lelia Noble


Persistence has paid off for these three seniors as Commencement 2017 arrives on Saturday, May 13.

For Brittany Williams, just making it to college was an achievement. As a child, she was exposed to contaminants that caused lingering health issues. She was frequently sick through high school, and a lack of proper supports from her school eventually led her to drop out.

Nevertheless, she remained undeterred. “From that point on, I was determined to finish my education,’’ she said.

To pay her way through college, Williams worked in banking for years. Eventually she enrolled at CCRI, then RIC, majoring in political science.

“I wanted an education that would help me make a difference in our government,’’ she explained. “Personally, I had a very difficult time in high school due to issues that could have been avoided had I been given access to a proper education. I wanted to make sure that no one else would have to face the obstacles I had faced.’’

However, even after arriving at RIC, her struggles continued. Williams earned straight As in her first semester, but during her second semester she was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Two months later she had to undergo abdominal surgery.

Again, she persevered and was able to complete the semester. “Despite these challenges, I have made it through and I am thankful to the professors and fellow students that helped me get to where I am,’’ she said.

In the fall, Williams will begin the Master of Public Affairs Program at Brown University. “I hope to work for a state agency in order to better our primary and secondary education systems in Rhode Island,’’ she said.

Making an impact on the educational system is also the goal of William Poland, a senior graduating in elementary education, with a concentration in mathematics. Poland intends to use his life experiences as an example for students.

“I hope to have a positive influence on my students’ educational and life goals,’’ Poland said.

At age 37, Poland was forced to change careers after an on-the-job work injury as a plumber. It resulted in the amputation of his fingertip and permanent nerve damage, rendering him unable to perform his trade.

“Roughly 10 years of my hard work and dedication in order to make a good life for my family was ended in one day,’’ he recalled. “I had to approach the challenge by seeing it as an opportunity to teach my two children that, no matter what obstacles occur in life, we must always continue to move forward.’’

As for his new career, he said, “I chose it because of my interest in learning mathematics and developing the necessary tools to plan, teach and critically reflect in a way that would help me provide equity in education for every student I teach.”

After graduation, Poland plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees, use his plumbing expertise to teach the trade to at-risk teens and volunteer as a tutor and mentor.

Lelia Noble’s journey to graduation day was a rocky one but she too kept plugging away. Noble first enrolled at RIC in 2001 as a biology major, but financial pressures caused her to take a few years off. She later returned, with an employer reimbursing her for biology coursework, but a change in that reimbursement program initiated another extended hiatus.

Still, she enrolled again. This time, after realizing that a rigorous biology lab schedule would infringe on her life and career, Noble rethought her choice of major.

“I was still interested in biology but not as much as perfecting my native language after visiting some relatives in Portugal,’’ explained Noble, who was born in the Azores and raised in Bermuda.

“I had minimal teachings in Portuguese as a child,’’ she said. “I thought it was time to do what I wanted. I wanted to speak fluently and understand the culture and history. I needed to find my identity and the only way to find it was through learning it.’’

Noble excelled in her new field of study, winning this year’s Prémio em Estudos Portugueses, the Cap and Gown Award presented to a graduating senior who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in Portuguese studies.

Still, Noble has not left biology behind entirely. She works full-time as a research assistant in histology at Core Research Laboratories at Rhode Island Hospital.

“Although it has taken me years to graduate, my best friend and significant other has always said that the years were going to pass anyway, so why not just do it – even one class at a time,’’ she said. “To the new students either entering or currently attending RIC, the best advice I can give you is to keep going.’’