Son of CCRI’s first president is commencement speaker this Friday

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Bill Flanagan, an author, television executive who created “VH1 Storytellers” and “CMT Crossroads” and son of the Community College of Rhode Island’s first president, will be keynote speaker at the college’s 50th commencement exercises Friday at the Knight Campus in Warwick.

CCRI will award more than more than 1,700 degrees and certificates during the ceremony in the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Knight Campus. Other highlights include a recognition of members of the first graduating Class of 1966 and a message from student commencement speaker Elizabeth Husted, 31, who is graduating with a degree in General Business and will attend Bryant University this fall to pursue a degree in entrepreneurship.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Gov. Gina Raimondo, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara S. Cottam are scheduled to bring greetings to the Class of 2015.

CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale said the family of the college’s first president, Dr. William F. Flanagan, who served from 1964 until his retirement in 1978, has played an important role in commemorating the college’s 50th anniversary; James Flanagan helped launch the year at the college’s Opening Day Convocation in August and Bill Flanagan will speak at the last event of the anniversary celebration.

“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,” said Bill Flanagan in a statement. “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.”

A graduate of Brown University, Flanagan was born in Warwick in 1955 and lived for several years with his family in the president’s house on the Knight Estate at the Knight Campus.

“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,” he said. “The college began in a borrowed facility on Promenade Street in Providence, and the fact that Royal Knight agreed to donate the family estate to be the campus was an extraordinary act of generosity on his part. But it was, personally, for us kids, kind of miraculous. It was like being one of the Beverly Hillbillies – moving to a mansion with horse barns, a pool, a greenhouse, a windmill and a fish pond.

“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.”

While the college has changed since his father’s presidency – it was renamed in 1980, now has four campuses and two satellites with an enrollment of nearly 18,000 students each semester – Flanagan said its mission is the same as 50 years ago.

“The founding philosophy, which continues to be the mission of the college, is that higher education should not be something only for the elite in a democratic society. That a person might need to work a job, might have children, might be serving in the military should not mean that they are cut off from all the opportunities that society has to offer. That’s financial opportunity of course, but also the opportunity to have a full life,” he said. “My father was very, very dedicated to the notion that the plumber should have the opportunity to study poetry and that the mathematician should have the opportunity to study art history. That this wasn’t just vocational training, it was giving people the opportunity to be the most fully developed human beings they could be.”

Flanagan 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 from 1985 to 1995. He is the author of six books – three novels, two nonfiction and one humor collection. He has been contributing essays to CBS’ “Sunday Morning” since 2001.

In 2013, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, which said that, as a critic and reviewer, his “positive spin on, support for and coverage of Rhode Island artists helped lead the way to many a record deal by promoting our local acts to the national mainstream.”

He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

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