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Flanagan's commencement message will focus on the institution his father held so dear
May 13, 2015
When author and television executive Bill Flanagan comes to the Community College of Rhode Island on Friday to deliver the keynote address at the 50th commencement exercises, it will be a homecoming of sorts.
Flanagan is one of the children of CCRI’s founding president, Dr. William F. Flanagan, who brought the college from its rented beginnings at the Brown & Sharpe factory building in Providence to the estate gifted to the college by Royal Knight – what is now the Knight Campus in Warwick. Growing up in the president’s house, Flanagan had a front-row seat to the makings of the college as he watched his father collaborate with faculty and state leaders around the dinner table.
“In effect, my father had five kids with my mother, and then he had the college. We all kind of grew up at the same kitchen table,” Flanagan said. "That period of time – from when we moved in at the beginning of 1966 until the campus opened in 1972 – was really remarkable. Building, creating and maintaining the college was not a 9-to-5 job. We had faculty and people from the state government around the dinner table. There was no line for my father and the original faculty members between work and leisure ... it was completely entwined with our family life."
The environment at the Knight estate under his father was a “pretty literate household,” said Flanagan; it made sense that the boy who grew up surrounded by books and listening to his father recite poetry would grow into a man who worked with words for a living. Flanagan has authored six books; has been contributing essays to CBS’ “Sunday Morning” since 2001; has written for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, GQ, Men's Journal, the Boston Globe, the Village Voice, Esquire and other publications; and was editor in chief of Musician.
He’s matter-of-fact about how he came to music writing, which earned him an induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2013. “It was a matter of putting gas in the car, of the market telling me where it wanted me,” he recalled, adding that he got his start while at Brown University writing concert reviews for the local papers, and that his editors reacted to his music writing with “more enthusiasm” than for his other subjects.
Of weathering the sea change of journalism in the era of cable and Internet – now melding together more than ever before, as traditional broadcast channels must compete and adapt to streaming and on-demand entertainment – Flanagan was similarly philosophical. “Old possibilities close up, and new possibilities open up. That’s just the way it goes, and the way it’s always going to go,” he said. “We don’t know what the future of cable TV is now, but to quote the old cliché, content is constant.”
Flanagan’s journey has been an exciting one, full of relationships and opportunities that would top the wish lists of any budding journalist. But he said of his upcoming speech at CCRI’s commencement exercises that he wanted to keep the focus closer to home – specifically the graduates and the institution that his father held so dear. “It’s a tremendous honor to my father's memory, and to our family and to the first faculty of CCRI to be asked to speak at commencement," he said. “It's very thoughtful of President Di Pasquale and the other folks involved with commencement to remember my father and the founding faculty in this way.”
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