It was a celebration of promise, in more ways than one.
Hundreds of students received diplomas during the Community College Rhode Island’s 54th commencement ceremony held May 16 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. They were part of a class of more than 2,000 graduates, the largest in the college’s history.
Their ranks include nearly 300 students who were among the first scholarship recipients through the Rhode Island Promise program.
“I and all my fellow Promise graduates say thank you, [Gov. Gina Raimondo], for believing in the Promise program, and we promise to make you and all of Rhode Island proud,” Alyze Brito, a Cranston High School West graduate one of the Promise students, said during her remarks.
She is the first in her family to graduate from college, and she earned her degree with honors from CCRI while working at full-time and part-time jobs. She plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Raimondo – who introduced the Promise program in 2017 and has proposed its expansion for the coming year – noted that her father attended college on the GI Bill after serving in World War II.
“One college degree changed my life, and my whole family’s life, forever,” she said, later adding: “Today, when you get that degree, you’re going to change your whole life and your family’s life, too…I know the value of it, and everyone deserves a chance.”
The Promise program covers the cost of tuition and fees for qualifying students for two years, and is currently available only to CCRI students. Raimondo’s proposal would expand the program to include Rhode Island College, covering the cost of tuition and fees for eligible students at that institution for their last two years of study. It would also open the program up to older students at CCRI.
“The reason I care so much about CCRI, and the reason I fought so hard for the Promise, is because I believe in you guys,” Raimondo told the gathered students.
Beyond the success of the Promise program, the ceremony served to highlight the achievements of CCRI’s latest graduates. Dr. Meghan Hughes, president of the college, said many of the diploma recipients were the first in their family to attend college or to earn a degree.
“Your grit, determination and intelligence have gotten you to this moment,” she said.
Tim DelGuidice, chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Education Council on Postsecondary Education, said the students’ experience at CCRI has set them on a course for success.
“Each of you have taken your own path here today, and for some of you the education journey continues as you transfer on to a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “For others, you’re going into or continuing in the workforce, and for some you’re still making those decisions. But all of you are much better prepared to face those choices than you were before now that you’re CCRI graduate.”
Student speakers reflected on their journeys and looked forward to future plans their time at CCRI has made possible.
Luis Ramos, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, will be a junior at Rhode Island College in the fall through the Joint Admissions Agreement between the two institutions.
“I want to thank everyone at CCRI – all the faculty and staff who believed in me and supported me to this day,” he said.
Michael Wynn, who served as commencement speaker, spent much of his youth in the state’s foster care system.
At CCRI, he flourished, serving as president of the Student Government at the college’s Liston Campus in Providence. He received an associate degree during the commencement ceremony and will continue his studies at Rhode Island College in the fall through the Joint Admissions Agreement. He plans to pursue a career as a social worker.
“A community is a living thing because it changes over time,” he said. “We each create our own community with the people in our lives who impact us, whom we rely on, whom we encourage and who encourage us. They are the people who stick with us through the good and the bad … It is with the help of my community and CCRI that I have a plan for my future.”
Wynn specifically praised adviser Crystal Bergantine, the college’s Student Life staff and professor Ely Catanzarite for their support and guidance.
“I have hope for my classmates that you charge forward into the world after CCRI, that you follow through on your goals, and that you explore life,” he told his fellow graduates. “My hope is that you continue to grow as your community changes and that you positively impact the community around you.”