Great day to graduate for more than 1,200 RIC undergrads

About an hour before the start of commencement exercises, President Nancy Carriuolo was walking along College Road waving to graduates and their families arriving in a growing line cars. It was to be the first commencement over which she would preside as president of RIC.

The weather was perfect: bright sun with moderate temperatures and an occasional light breeze. It seemed like a good sign for the president and for the 1,221 graduates who would receive their bachelor’s degrees on Saturday, May 16.

Graduates list

RIC music students sing
the National Anthem.

Geography major Dean Johnson of Warwick said of graduating, “It’s another milestone. I was in the army. I got married, had a kid, bought a house and now I have a bachelor’s.”

Michael L. Iavarone, a North Providence math major, expressed his enthusiasm, “The excitement of my first day at college, ‘move-in day,’ has been equaled by the thrill of commencement day.”

Elementary education major Ibilolia Holder of Cranston expressed what probably many in attendance felt, “I feel great because I’m done finally. But I am gone to miss this school.”

To open the ceremonies President Carriuolo read a letter from another president, Barack Obama, who wrote to the graduates, “I offer my congratulations and best wishes as you go out into a world that is counting on you.”

Carriuolo had specially requested the letter through Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) office.

Bringing greetings from the state, Governor Donald L. Carcieri told the graduates

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo
that they are part of a “long and proud tradition,” which has had “huge impacts on our state” by providing nurses, teachers, social workers and others who have contributed to its richness.

He also reminded the graduates that their education is something that could never be taken away from them and that it is “the gate key for your dreams.”

Carcieri pointed out two graduation landmarks for RIC. The 2009 graduating class had as members the second oldest and the second youngest bachelor’s degree recipients in the college’s history – Edmund D’Attello, 81, who earned a degree in history, and Elizabeth Codd, 18, a summa cum laude graduate in mathematics.

Frank Caprio, chair of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, emphasized that the board of governors was especially proud of graduates from low-income families. He noted that 30 years ago, a person from a low-income family was four times less likely to graduate from college, and today that statistic has grown to nine times less likely.

Recognizing that the graduates were facing difficult times where success would require tenacity and resourcefulness, Caprio closed his remarks by quoting from President Theodore Roosevelt, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena ... who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again ... who, at best, in the end knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while erring greatly....”

President Nancy Carriuolo, in addressing the graduates, spoke about her own experiences in finding employment during recessions. Her first job was as an adjunct instructor, which led to a one-year appointment and eventually to a tenure-track position.

“My career was successful simply because I embraced with enthusiasm the modest opportunities that were open to me. . . and I continued my education in graduate school,” she said.

Two honorary degrees were awarded at the ceremony. Anne G. Murphy, president of Linkages in Washington, D.C., a consulting firm specializing in public policy, the arts and humanities, and a member of RIC’s class of 1959, received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.

Mark S. Weiner
Philanthropist, political activist and business executive Mark S. Weiner received an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree. Weiner is founder and president of Financial Innovations, Inc., located in Cranston, one of the largest political mass marketing firms in the United States. He also served as chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.

Weiner acknowledged the important role Rhode Island College’s Henry Barnard School played in his life. When he was a child, his parents were told that he was learning disabled and may not be able read or write. But through the efforts of his teachers in special education classes at Barnard, he was able to enter a regular classroom by the fifth grade.

Murphy was also commencement speaker, marking the first time in the college’s history that a member of the golden anniversary class has been chosen as commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient.
 Significantly, her class was the first to graduate from the Mount Pleasant campus.

Murphy told the graduates that she felt lucky to have found her passion in life during her years at RIC, and singled out art professor Edith Becker as a special inspiration, even though Murphy’s original plans to become a teacher shifted to the public policy arena, notably in the arts.

Anne G. Murphy
Murphy emphasized that the skills acquired in college prepares one for many roles, “Learning how to think and the freedom to think is what you take with you as you leave this campus. These are the passports to a world of untold opportunity.”

Among her closing words were these from Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Kristyn Benedetti, president of the class of 2009, gave the farewell remarks and added a note of humor when she quoted Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau as saying “commencement speeches were invented because graduates had to be sedated before they were let out into the real world.”

Kristyn Benedetti with President Carriuolo.
Benedetti went on to touch upon some significant events that the class of 2009 witnessed, such as signing the Virginia Tech banner, sending support to the troops overseas, and listening to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama on campus.

The Golden Anniversary class of 1959, represented by Henry P. Guillotte and Donald B. Babbitt, presented the college with a record-setting gift of $132,382 from their “Thanks a Thousand Times” fundraising campaign.

Guillotte, a professor emeritus of mathematics and secondary education, served on the college’s faculty for 30 years. Babbitt is a retired Cranston schoolteacher who in 2002 was named alumnus of the year.

Making special reference of one of the college’s newest commencement customs, President Carriuolo acknowledged representatives of classes throughout the years.

Class of '59
Eileen Deering Rafferty, Class of 1942 was the most senior alumnus in attendance. Rafferty was a member of the first class to graduate from the college after the start of World War II. She served in the Women’s Army Corps, taught in the public schools of Warwick and Cranston, and had a long career teaching at Bryant University.

Joseph Graziano, president of the class of 2008, was the most recent alumnus in attendance.

Dignitaries at the ceremonies included U.S congressman James Langevin (D-RI, RIC class of 1990), Rhode Island general treasurer Frank Caprio, Cranston mayor Allan Fung (RIC class of 1992), Warwick mayor Scott Avedesian, and RIC president emeritus John Nazarian, who received a honorary doctorate at the advanced-degree commencement on May 14.