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CCRI looks ahead to 51st academic year
at annual Opening Day Convocation
Aug. 28, 2015
It was a bittersweet morning that marked the annual Community College of Rhode Island Opening Day Convocation for its 51st academic year. While those assembled happily looked to the college’s next 50 years, the event also served as a fond farewell to President Ray Di Pasquale, who will leave the college once a successor is named.
In his introductory remarks, Jack Renza, longtime professor in Business at the college, spoke of the “winds of great change” that the college would be welcoming in the near term: “As uncomfortable as it may feel, change is good. It’s a part of life, and we must embrace it. … Let us embrace that change while recognizing the past 10 years of successes of Ray Di Pasquale,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Renza recalled how when Di Pasquale came to the college, morale was low and change was welcome. He said that Di Pasquale had led the college to “a new pinnacle of success.”
The college’s three union presidents also spoke about the impeding departure. “I only hope that our next president will be half as accessible and approachable as Ray has been,” said Assistant Professor Shawn Parker, president of the CCRI Faculty Association, in remarks echoed by his fellow union Presidents Lynn Gudeczauskas of the Educational Support Professional Association and Jeff Heiser of the CCRI Professional Staff Association. Heiser, who is also outgoing from his post, made his eighth and final Opening Day address before handing the microphone back to Di Pasquale for a chance to look both back and ahead at the college’s future.
Videos compiled by the Department of Marketing and Communications played on the screens hanging over the Bobby Hackett Theater, featuring a look back on Di Pasquale’s presidency as well as a highlight reel of key moments from last year’s 50th anniversary events. Afterwards, Di Pasquale addressed some of the exciting changes coming down the pike, including an 18-classroom education and training center in Westerly, anchored by Electric Boat.
“This is a great example of public and private partnerships to eradicate an identified skills gap,” he said of the venture, which secured a $2 million donation from Chuck Royce, the owner of the Ocean House.
Di Pasquale also spoke of the $25 million in upgrades planned for the Knight Campus in Warwick as part of the Warwick Renewal Project, including upgrades to common spaces, classrooms and labs, signs, accessibility measures and more. New academic programs, such as expanded hospitality and culinary program and geriatric care services curricula, are also in the works.
Financially, Di Pasquale was able to offer the heartening news that state support for the college had increased by nearly $2.5 million, and that although enrollment for the fall semester was slightly lower than last year to date, this was not expected to affect the college’s balance sheet.
“I hope that all of you feel as proud as I do that we have had extraordinary accomplishments over the last 50 years. I’ve had an incredible ride,” said Di Pasquale.
After the ceremony, attendees stopped by the lectern to say goodbye to Di Pasquale, although he emphasized that he would not leave until after the fall semester was concluded and a successor had been named. Longtime educator and colleague Walter Crocker, director of the Liston Campus in Providence, was at a loss as to what he’d do next.
“I don’t know where I’ll be without Ray,” said Crocker, who was brought in out of retirement by Di Pasquale. “I only hope that his successor is half as good as he is!”
Throughout the morning, all speakers pointed to the enduring reason why faculty and staff are at CCRI: the students. It’s without a doubt that this dedication to the student body – now spread out as over 66,000 alumni across the nation – is what injects the energy into each Opening Day convocation, and keeps faculty and staff returning to serve.
Performing Arts Professor Bert Silverberg said that he’s one of the few faculty members who has served under all four of the college’s presidents.
“As Stephen Sondheim wrote, ‘Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ’em all, and I’m still here,’” he said, quoting one of the great writers of his discipline, before getting started on work for the day.
“I’m sad about him leaving,” said Michael Palazzolo, a Nursing student who was at the convocation as president of the Liston Student Government.
A student at the college since 2011, Palazzolo said he had been looking forward to Di Pasquale giving him his diploma when he graduates.