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Flanagan encourages Class of 2015
grads to start building their next 50 years

May 15, 2015

Keynote speaker Bill Flanagan speaks at the Knight Campus in Warwick. Keynote speaker Bill Flanagan addresses the Class of 2015 at the 50th commencement exercises at the Knight Campus in Warwick. (View a video of his remarks.)

The Community College of Rhode Island awarded more than 1,850 degrees and certificates at its 50th commencement today in the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Knight Campus in Warwick.

The event was the culmination of the college's 50th anniversary celebration. Commencement speaker Bill Flanagan, son of the college's first president, Dr. William Flanagan, said in his return to campus he "expected some déjà vu, but this is like reincarnation." He spoke about living at the Knight Estate with his siblings during the time the campus was built.

"When this college was being created, there were blueprints and models for a traditional campus that would cover these whole 200 acres – I remember my father spreading them on the dining room table down at the president's house – there were science labs and an English building and here's the art studios and here's the math department, but the mission of the college inspired something radical."

He said there was a lot of criticism surrounding the idea of putting everything under one roof in a large megastructrure – "what looked like a beached aircraft carrier" – and some people called it ugly. "My father said, 'We're not building this institution just for today. We're building it for the students of the 21st century.' And here you are."

He said the American ideal, and the ideal that CCRI is founded on, is that talent, initiative, original thinking and plain hard work can be rewarded. It's called character, he said.

"Character is a mom who goes back to college, even though she's got to get her kids up for school, even though she's got to get them breakfast and take care of them when they're sick, even though she's got to do her term paper ... that's character."

He said it's also a veteran who serves his country and comes back to enroll in college and the young woman who delays her dreams – maybe lives at home instead of getting her own apartment and works at a restaurant at night – because she wants to study to become a teacher or a nurse.

"Character is also a guy who is great at fixing cars – he's always going to make a good living at it – but he signs up for a course in poetry or philosophy not because it's going to make him richer, but because it's going to help him lead a richer life. That's character. And there's one thing that we all know that's been true about this college for 50 years: It's full of characters."

He told the graduates that there are jobs out there for wherever their passion lies. "Somebody's going to get those jobs; why shouldn't it be you?" he said. "I've spent the last 20 years working at MTV. My father, our distinguished president emeritus, thought that I was wasting my time when, instead of doing algebra, he'd find me lying on the floor listening to The Who. But it turned out that I was doing career preparation. You see? You never know."

He noted how fast life goes and how one day you're sitting in the back of the room listening to your father give a commencement speech and 50 years go by "and then you're the old guy standing up there looking at the faces of the people who are going to replace you."

He encouraged the graduates to start building their next 50 years: "Tonight, when this very long ceremony is over, take a few moments to go back, say your thank-you's, say your goodbyes, give a few hugs and then get up tomorrow to start the rest of your lives. It's going to go faster than you can possibly believe, so don't waste a day. This is your turn, it's your time, treasure every day."

Sondra PittsAlso during the ceremony, Sondra V. Pitts, a member of the first graduating Class of 1966 and a past president of the Alumni Association, presented a special message to the graduates. The college has grown from a class of 325 in an old factory building on Promenade Street in Providence to the largest community college in New England, with an enrollment of nearly 18,000 at four campuses and two satellite campuses.

"As different as the CCRI of today is from the CCRI of 1964, however, in the most important respects they are really the same. CCRI is still the best choice when one's options are limited for whatever reason. CCRI is still the best choice for making progress while determining how far to go in higher education to achieve in life what one wants to achieve," she said.

"The Class of 2015 can be proud of its contributions to the development and improvement of CCRI," she said. "Please keep us in your hearts and prayers as you pursue your new lives as our graduates, secure in the knowledge that, like the last 50 years, CCRI will be here if you need us."

Before sharing the personal stories of some of the graduates, President Ray Di Pasquale said the college was thrilled to share the last event of the 50th anniversary with the members of the Class of 2015 and their families and friends. "You have worked hard and I am certain you are well prepared for the challenges that life will bring you," he told the graduates. "Whether you are heading out into the workforce or continuing on to attain your bachelor's degree and beyond, you have great reason to be proud of all you have accomplished here."

Elizabeth HustedElizabeth Husted, 31, of Providence addressed her classmates as Class of 2015 student commencement speaker. Husted had an unsuccessful start at Rhode Island College directly following high school, but she eventually overcame a fear of the classroom to return to college. She excelled at CCRI and, as her confidence grew, she joined the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and served as the chapter's co-president for two years. She graduated with a degree in General Business and a 3.5 GPA and will head to Bryant University this fall to pursue a degree in entrepreneurship to help her realize her dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast in Providence.

"This completion isn't just a stepping stone for us either, you know. It's a trampoline for some of us – to bounce up and down, to celebrate our hard work with this associate degree. This degree can also springboard some of us toward advancing our education or pursuing new careers," she told her classmates.

"Through traveling with Phi Theta Kappa over the past three years, I've had the opportunity to meet community college students from all over the world, and a common misconception we discovered is that community college was our only choice," she said. "But like I told my fellow graduate in the computer lab this past week – I didn't catch your name, but you know who you are – 'We are just as intelligent, if not more so than those who started at a four-year institution. And it's our job to end that stigma.' And so, I challenge you, CCRI Class of 2015, as we join new communities, to let everyone know where we came from."

Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cottam also attended and brought greetings and congratulations to the Class of 2015.

On Thursday night, the Alumni Association presented superlative-type awards to those graduates who attended commencement rehearsal:

  • Karlene Lord of Woonsocket, who received an associate degree in business with a concentration in marketing, won the award for attending for the most years. She began taking classes in fall 1999.
  • Jacqueline Jean LeFrancois of Blackstone, Massachusetts, who received an associate degree in general studies, and Rachel Montanaro of Cranston, who received a certificate in social services, were the oldest graduates in attendance. Both are 65.
  • Montanaro also won the award for having the most children – seven.

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Last Updated: 6/5/17