No matter their age or walk of life, all 1,659 Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) graduates were excited to earn degrees at CCRI’s 47th commencement Friday.
Whether they started their journey through college right after high school or later on, many said they felt grateful for their accomplishments.
“I’m proud of myself that I was able to get to this point,” said 2010 Toll Gate graduate, Jacob Therien, 19, who received his degree in general studies. “I wasn’t really the best student in high school and for me to turn around and pull this off is really a proud moment.”
Chad Danusis, 37, a 1993 Toll Gate graduate who received an associate degree in law enforcement, feels the same. He said he was a social butterfly in high school who focused more on having fun with his friends as opposed to keeping his nose in the books.
Now, he’s a college graduate with high honors under his belt. But, that’s not the only honor he has earned through trying times.
Danusis is a decorated Army veteran, as he sustained injuries during a tour of Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart. He spent 22 months recovering from extensive burns in a Texas hospital.
“President [George W.] Bush came to the hospital and visited all the wounded soldiers on New Year’s Day in 2006,” he said.
Donna Teh, a stay-at-home-mom who earned a dental assisting certificate with honors, also shared a touching story. For her, she endured a battle of finding time to schedule courses.
“I decided to go back to school and I’ve been taking class one at a time for the last five years,” she said moments before the ceremony began and graduates started their march from the college facility to the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Knight Campus.
As the celebration began, CCRI President and Commissioner of Higher Education Ray Di Pasquale welcomed this year’s class to the ranks of more than 58,000 CCRI alumni. Alongside him sat elected officials, including Gov. Lincoln Chafee; Mayor Scott Avedisian; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; and Congressman David Cicilline, among others.
“You are a part of the college’s 48 years of rich history,” Di Pasquale told graduates. “The community college has always played a vital role in the state of Rhode Island, but the recent economic challenges our state has experienced have highlighted the importance of this institution. The power of the community college is great, as you all have seen in your time here. We know that you will go out into the world and touch the lives of your fellow Rhode Islanders the way that so many CCRI alumni have before you.”
Before introducing Lauren Macbeth, the class of 2012 student commencement speaker, Di Pasquale spoke about five of her classmates who overcame challenges in order to achieve their dreams of becoming college graduates.
Regina Castro, a general business major, moved to the United States from Kazakhstan three years ago. She mastered the English language through noncredit courses at CCRI and then earned her associate degree, graduating with a 4.0 grade point average (GPA). She plans to go on to study finance and economics at Bryant University this fall.
Maderline Perez, who also earned a degree in general business and will continue her studies in accounting at Bryant University in autumn, has an interesting success story, as well. As a Dominican Republic native who moved to the United States with her mother and sister when she was 4, Perez finished her degree in two years by taking six classes per semester at times, all while working at the success center tutoring other students. She graduated with a 3.43 GPA.
For Anthony Paolino, a general business major who graduated with a 3.54 GPA, it took a decade to earn his diploma because his studies were interrupted several times by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. To help other veterans, he serves as president of CCRI’s Student Veterans Organization and started a nonprofit, Rhode Island Military Organization, to provide services to returning veterans. He will attend either Providence College, the University of Rhode Island or Bryant University to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Di Pasquale also mentioned Alejandro Tobon, who overcame unemployment, as well as a hearing impairment, and Jodi Perron, who recently returned from Johnson Space Station in Houston after a three-day program with NASA where she worked with a team to design a model planetary rover in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program.
Macbeth, 23, of Warren, a general business major who graduated with a 3.97 GPA, was president of the Pi Omicron chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and, as the New Century Scholar from Rhode Island, recently spoke to nearly 2,000 college presidents and senior-level administrators at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual conference. She also is a member of the Kappa Beta Delta honor society and was a cellist in the Rhode Island Philharmonic Community Orchestra for three years.
However, like her classmates, she also experienced challenges along the way. Being home schooled her whole life made the first day of college nerve-wracking. At first, she wasn’t sure if she was capable of classroom work, but it wasn’t long before she discovered the education her parents provided had prepared her well.
“Did you face times when getting to this moment seemed impossible?” Macbeth said to her classmates. “I did. We’re here today because of our own hard work and perseverance, certainly. But, more importantly, we’re here because of each other. Today we all stand together as one community; a community of support and strength, a community composed of each other.”
Macbeth also completed her degree while working full-time as program director of the Feinstein Institute for Legal Services at Roger Williams University School of Law. She will continue her education at Roger Williams, where she will study sociology with the goal of one day running a nonprofit organization.
For more information about the commencement, visit www.ccri.edu. A full list of graduates is available at www.ccri.edu/commencement/grads2012.html.