SCHOOLS

'You matter most,' CCRI President Hughes tells grads in virtual ceremony

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The Community College of Rhode Island’s (CCRI) virtual commencement ceremony featured messages of hope, courage and change amid a global pandemic.

Approximately 2,245 students graduated on May 29 with degrees and certificates in fields ranging from nursing and business to liberal arts and general studies. This was the college’s 55th commencement.

CCRI President Meghan Hughes emphasized how although not meeting in-person may be disappointing for graduates, the ceremony is worth more than its bells and whistles. 

“When you get right down to it, the cheering and the clapping are the window dressing,” Hughes said. “The simplicity of this graduation, the first one of its kind for CCRI, allows us all to focus, truly focus, on what matters most, and that’s every single one of you.”

Hughes then cited the graduating class’s courage as its most remarkable asset. According to Hughes, many students had to juggle jobs, families, clubs and service, which is difficult enough under normal circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified this stress, but this year’s graduates have persevered. 

Hughes concluded that graduates have the challenge as well as the opportunity to create lasting social change in a post-pandemic world.

“So I leave you with this, Class of 2020,” Hughes said. “What does it mean to graduate today, in the belly of the worst health crisis faced by our country in 100 years? It means you have a choice about how you live going forward, about the choices you make, about what use you make of this pandemic and what use our society makes of it.”

Governor Gina Raimondo and Senator Jack Reed recorded congratulations for the graduating class that were played before the main commencement ceremony. CCRI student Amanda Gelinas sang the National Anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, while graduate Kaicie Boeglin was the student commencement speaker.

 Boeglin, who plans to transfer to Rhode Island College to study journalism, said that she has been through three different majors at CCRI as her career goals evolved. She cited her experiences with CCRI’s student newspaper and radio station as helping her discover her passions. She urged her fellow graduates to carve their own paths while being open to life’s unexpected directions.

“Some of us know what we want our end result to be, and others do not,” Boeglin said. “What combines us all is the story. Even if we know how we want our stories to end, we are all still living and moving forward, thus adding details and passages to the stories of our life. In order to capture a truly mesmerizing story, there is constant drafting, editing and revising to be done. And there’s no need to rush in writing an ending. Our lives are our stories, and the way we tell them is up to us.”

Boeglin also encouraged her classmates to take initiative in their lives, and to look forward to the future, even if it feels uncertain.

“If this chapter is now closed, what will you do?” Boeglin asked her classmates. “Will you keep reading the same page, or even the same chapter, because you are scared to move on? Or will you keep that pen in your hand and continue to write your chapters as the story progresses?”

Creating a virtual ceremony was something the college has never done before, but despite the unusual circumstances, CCRI Director of Marketing and Communications Amy Kemp said that feedback on the ceremony has been positive.

“We’ve never had to create a virtual commencement before, so it really was starting from scratch,” Kempe said. “We have a whole team of people here who put together the traditional commencement each year, so we had to figure out how to create something that is still special and impactful for our families while still realizing that nothing can replace the coming together of friends and family during a traditional commencement.”

However, 2020 graduates will have the opportunity to participate in the 2021 commencement ceremony, which Kemp hopes will be in-person.

“Everyone has worked very hard to recognize our graduate’s accomplishments in this new normal,” Kempe said. “I do hope that all of our graduates come back next year and celebrate in person at the commencement because there is really nothing like it. They deserve to hear their family and friends cheer as they walk across the stage and accept the diploma.”

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