In many ways the Community College of Rhode Island 48th commencement was like those that preceded it; with graduates in black gowns and caps parading from the superstructure on the Knight Campus down to the Cullen Field House to be greeted by cheering friends and family. But this year, with the horrors of Newtown and the Boston Marathon, a reminder that such gatherings are also targets, the themes of overcoming adversity and persistence took on double meaning.
“Events like these – so close to home – can shatter our sense of security and cause us to rethink our worldview. But in times like those, it is important for us to remember there is so much good in the world, too – so much good right here in Rhode Island. And you are a part of that,” President Ray Di Pasquale said opening his remarks.
Campus security was a top priority.
CCRI and state police, with bomb sniffing dogs, conducted a sweep of the campus the day before. That was followed by a lockdown of the campus and another sweep the day of the ceremony. Fifteen Warwick Police augmented college and state police to search bags as people streamed into the field house and patrol inside and outside the building.
The police presence didn’t blunt the enthusiasm of the event as more than 900 of the 1,725 recipients of degrees and certificates participated in the ceremony that featured student speaker Albino Folcarelli.
Folcarelli called the day a “victory” that symbolizes perseverance over sleepless nights and times when the pressure seemed too much to bear.
Known on campus as “Albe,” Folcarelli earned a 3.99 GPA and will be attending Columbia University where he will double major in pre-med and Spanish. He has a goal of becoming a pediatric psychiatrist in critical need areas of Latin America through the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders.
“Although it would have been much easier to quit,” Folcarelli told his classmates, “our presence here today is a testament to the fact that we overcame and we stand united as stronger students and individuals for having done so.”
He described his personal victory overcoming such severe social anxiety in high school he would skip class rather than walk in late. While he said he loved learning, he called school “a torturous experience and I avoided it at all costs.”
“Our graduating class, like the student body of this institution, is composed of strong individuals, of conquerors, who refused to be defeated and who seek and sought a better life for themselves and the people they care about,” he said.
As he has done in previous commencements, Di Pasquale recounted the stories of three graduates, asking them to stand, as he described their circumstances and personal achievements. Additional graduates were selected for recognition and their stories were posted on the college website.
While those students were put in the spotlight, the class cast the spotlight on the faculty, cheering them and joining in a standing ovation for Lela M. Morgan, vice president for academic affairs, who is retiring after 47 years with the college.
In their greetings, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Eva-Marie Mancuso, chair of the Rhode Island Board of Education, struck a common chord of how the graduates have persevered and how they will help shape the state’s future.
“We look to you with great confidence,” Reed said. “Thank you for what you have done and thank you for what you will do.”
Cicilline called the CCRI commencement his “favorite graduation,” and how this is “a daunting time for young people.” While some say America’s best days are behind her, Cicilline pointed to the hope brought by the courage, creativity, ingenuity and strength of the graduates, and urged them to take the knowledge they have gained to meet the challenge and build a better life for themselves, those they love and the community.
“You are shaping the future of institutions large and small,” said Roberts. “We need you.”
Raimondo called on the graduates to “go forth and be the backbone of our community.”