SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Throughout the process of preparing his undergraduate commencement address, Mazen Taman, of Cranston, couldn’t stop thinking about his mother, Manal Ismail.
“I am still hoping it’s a surprise for my mom,” Taman said. “She’s involved in my speech.”
The University of Rhode Island will hold its 137th commencement ceremony on Saturday and school officials project there to be over 25,000 people on campus to celebrate the school’s class of 2023 graduation class, over a weekend’s worth of special events and ceremonies.
Taman and his brothers grew up in a single-family household, where Taman said his mother led the charge by working multiple jobs.
“She sacrificed tremendously for us,” he said. “She’s a big reason for I am who I am. She always emphasized working hard and doing right and the rest would work itself out. And I think that’s kind of helped me persevere through challenges and the lower points of my life.”
There will be 3,331 undergraduates and 769 graduate students who will receive their degrees on the Kingston campus.
Commencement exercises begin on Friday as the graduate students walk the stage at the Ryan Center that evening at 5 p.m.
The deliverer of the graduate commencement speech will be Tania Silva de Oliveira. Oliveira is a chemical engineer and an analytical research scientist at a Boston-based global pharmaceutical company.
“(I’m) excited,” Oliveira said. “It’s an exciting moment. We waited for it – I waited for it for about five years.”
Oliveira finished two bachelor’s degrees in her native Brazil, and an undergraduate study-abroad experience at URI.
She returned to URI after studying in Brazil and earned her doctorate in chemical engineering in December 2022.
When Oliveira first arrived in the U.S., she said, she knew no English.
“I knew how to say, ‘good morning,’” she said. “I remember going to Walmart because I needed some oxygen peroxide.”
Oliveira said because of the language barrier, she kept being sent to the groceries, when she needed to be at the pharmacy.
So, she took English classes from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., for five days each week and was able to grasp the language in about seven months.
The undergraduate ceremony will be held on Saturday at the Quadrangle, at 10 a.m.
The university this weekend will bestow an honorary degree on writer, naturalist, and freedom-of-speech advocate Terry Tempest Williams – who will deliver Saturday’s keynote commencement speech.
The school will also issue honorary degrees to Zaven Khachaturiun, known as the Father of Modern Alzheimer’s Disease Research; Wendy Schmidt, philanthropist and investor, who works with communities internationally to bring clean, renewable energy, along with resilient food systems, healthy ecosystems and human rights protection; and Clint Smith, an interdisciplinary scholar and social justice educator.
Graduating students range in age from 20-73. The university’s youngest undergraduate this year will be 20 years old, with their oldest being 66 years old. The youngest graduate student is 21 and the oldest is 73.
Amongst the graduates, there are representatives from 41 states and 31 countries. Over 50% of undergraduates are from Rhode Island. There are also 16% of students from Massachusetts, 10% from Connecticut, 9% from New York and just under 7% from New Jersey.
Over 60% of graduates are from Rhode Island. Graduate students hailing from Massachusetts (8%) and Connecticut (8%) are each under 10%.
Taman’s family moved to the United States from Egypt, before he and his brothers were born.
He arrived at URI as a transfer from UMass Dartmouth.
If he could exist simultaneously with his younger self, Taman said, he would tell himself to get support earlier — “understand the supports that’s around you.”
Taman said, those in attendance on Saturday can expect his speech to be about finding your “why.” To ask oneself, “why do I do what I do?”
Taman said, when he first got to URI, he “didn’t feel like I had that why.”
But then, he’d remember his mother.
Work hard. Do right. The rest will come.
This semester, Taman worked two paid internships at Rhode Island Hospital and CVS Pharmacy in East Greenwich. He also worked with two research teams that investigated home electronic blood pressure monitoring efficacy, for renal transplant patients — and a software platform for managing investigational drugs.
On Saturday, Taman will earn his Doctor of Pharmacy degree. In the fall, he will join Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.
Taman will leave URI having completed six clinical rotations at Rhode Island Hospital, all while playing four seasons of football for the Rams.
Despite having held 136 commencement ceremonies, URI is only 131 years old. The school held two ceremonies from 1942-1943 to accommodate war veterans and three ceremonies in 1944.
The proceedings this weekend can be watched via live broadcast at https://web.uri.edu/commencement/y2023/main-ceremony/, with the webcast beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday and stoping at the end of the ceremony on the Quadrangle. There will also be streaming available for the graduate school ceremony at https://web.uri.edu/commencement/y2023/
In the event of rain, the undergraduate ceremony will be in the Ryan Center. A decision will be made by 6 a.m. that morning, school officials said.
Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, Taman will be ready. Ready to speak on how far he has come, with his mother in attendance.
“When people are helping you, it’s even more motivation,” Taman said. “You can’t let them down either.”
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