SOUTH KINGSTOWN—As the sun shone over the quadrangle at the University of Rhode Island, families and friends eagerly awaited the rite of passage of their sons and daughters: college graduation. For the 126th time since URI’s doors opened in 1888, students accepted their diplomas and flung their caps skyward after a day filled with celebration and reflection.
Approximately 15,000 gathered to witness 2,963 undergraduates walk on Sunday and 738 graduate students on Saturday. Among them, eight sets of twins graduated as well as 16 U.S. military veterans, the oldest being 70 and the youngest 19. Students from all walks of life and experience received diplomas on Sunday. Mike Clark, for example, a former firefighter, received his master’s degree in nursing, following in the footsteps of his siblings after their parents had passed away.
Mary McGunigal, the student speaker at URI’s Commencement ceremony, received her B.A., summa cum laude, in classical studies and will pursue the medical profession in the fall as a student in the Mount Sinai Humanities and Medicine Early Acceptance Program. The program is designed to allow undergraduates wishing to continue in medicine to study fields in the humanities in order to develop well-rounded doctors and medical personnel of the future. McGunigal elaborated on her experiences and what URI means to her.
“If I had to name one thing the class of 2012 excels at, it’s the ability to spend our time doing what we’re passionate about,” said McGunigal. “I see passion in the graceful limbs of dancers in late-night practice, in the glinting brass instruments of the pep band, in the knitted brows topped with orange bandannas of the Humans versus Zombies players. Time is a wonderful gift that’s enabled us to do exceptional things here.”
McGunigal spoke to the specific qualities of the 2012 graduating class as well, confident that she and her fellow classmates can make a positive difference in an uncertain world.
“URI is home to both a diversely passionate student body and amazing people who go above and beyond what the verb ‘working’ here implies,” said McGunigal. “They encourage us and set no limits on what they believe we can achieve.”
“With our URI degrees, I’m positive that we are prepared to better the lives of others around us, because I’ve already witnessed a drive to change the world in the Class of 2012,” she added. “This class of volunteers, tutors, mentors, engineers and designers; we are agents of change.”
Students’ emotions were a mix of relief and sadness as they carried out the denouement of their college careers.
“My time was really great, and it is sad to be leaving,” said Sarah Brennan, a Communications major. “Four years flew by, and I met a lot of really cool people. It was an exciting four years and would do it all again if I could.”
“I am happy to graduate on time and be done with college,” said Meredith Castros, a Textiles Merchandising major. “It is sad that college is ending, but I am happy that the education part is over. I really enjoyed living down by the beach, to be honest.”
Larry and Sandy Lee of East Greenwich were proud to see their son, Alexander, receive his diploma, and hope that his education will carry him as he pursues an M.S. in Information Assurance at Northeastern University in the fall.
“This is a beautiful day, an ideal day,” said Lee. “[URI] has a great campus, and local to us. It was nice to be able to see him go through it and grow.”
Katie Porter, an Art History major who plans to take on an museum internship in Colorado, praised the dedication of her professors, without which she could not have achieved as much as she has at URI.
“It feels good to graduate, but weird because [URI] has been such a big part of my life,” said Katie Porter, an Art History major. “My professors have been great mentors to me, particularly Pamela Warner and Mary Hollinshead. We have had awesome conversations, and not just about things we’ve learned, but about character-building.”
“They’ve been firm but very understanding, and you never want to let them down,” she added.
Although many excited faces filled the quad on Sunday, a great many more were able to witness the commencement ceremonies through URI’s webchat and real-time video streaming on its website.
“Last year, more than 400 people watched commencement ceremonies online, and many of our graduates are not from Rhode Island,” said Jhodi Redich, Public Information and Communication Specialist at URI. “There are no other schools in Rhode Island doing the webchat. We feel that the technology and the tools are there, so let’s use them.”
As the last students walked across the podium, diplomas in hand, they take more than a piece of paper into the adult world with them, but a URI education and experience as well.