SOUTH KINGSTOWN — This year the University of Rhode Island held its 127th commencement exercises in the Ryan Center instead of outdoors. While the move was intended to increase security around the event, the class of 2013 also avoided a soggy afternoon outside. In all, 3,200 undergraduates and nearly 800 graduate students received their degrees in commencement ceremonies over the course of the weekend.
Among the scholars and dignitaries on the dais were URI President David M. Dooley, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Sen. Jack Reed, Congressman David Cicilline, Congressman James Langevin, Professor Peter Larsen, chair Faculty Senate and Grand Marshal, Reverend W. David Dobbins of St. Augustine’s Church, Eva-Marie Mancuso, chair Rhode Island Board of Education, and Donald H. DeHayes, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Honorary Doctorate degrees were conferred on: Robert A. DiMuccio, president and CEO of Amica Mutual Insurance Company; Mary E. Kennard, vice president and general counsel at American University who was a former vice president at URI; and Franklin Wallace Simon, president of The Simon Companies.
Carolyn Rafaelian, founder and creative director of Alex and Ani, received a Doctor of Business, Honoris Causa. Rafaelian studied at URI for two years and at the American College in London. She launched Alex and Ani, a jewelry company, in 2004 and opened her store in Newport in 2010. She was commended for her entrepreneurial spirit and for building a business in Rhode Island.
Rafaelian briefly spoke to the graduates about courage and focus as guiding principles as they move forward in their careers.
“Do life with love in your heart, do it without fear. You life’s purpose is the most important thing to think about no matter what,” she said.
She thanked URI and said that she might not have met her company’s CEO if it had not been for URI.
Giovanni Feroce, CEO of Alex and Ani, and URI class of ‘91, was this year’s commencement speaker and also received a Doctor of Business, Honoris Causa.
Feroce was an United States Army Major who served two tours in Iraq and as an operations officer at the U.S. Central Command. One year after graduating from URI, he was elected as a Rhode Island state senator. He later attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania’s Advanced Management Program as well as other academic and leadership programs.
Feroce began his speech by showing “You Can Be a Champion,” a lively music video with lyrics shown on the screen. When the video was over, Feroce began his speech by emphasizing the importance of working together and that hard work will bring rewards.
“I expect you to be a champion for positive change. Set an example – work hard and sacrifice. There can be no success, no reward, without hard work,” he said.
Feroce talked about Alex and Ani’s “triple bottom line,” which he said was economic, environmental, and social. The economic bottom line, he said, was to make lots of money; the environmental part was to use green processes and materials; and the social piece was to give to charity (Alex and Ani gave away more than $3 million last year).
He went on to detail what he called Alex and Ani’s “main street strategy,” in which the company establishes stories in business districts and is intended to restore commerce on main streets in cities around the country.
“It’s known as the Alex and Ani effect,” he said.
The company is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island.
“‘Made in America’ was once synonymous with high quality and it’s becoming synonymous with quality again, and so too is ‘Made in Rhode Island,’” Feroce added.
Feroce urged the graduates to bring the same commitment to their work as they did toward getting their degrees.
“Conduct yourself so that employers will say, ‘I want URI graduates to work for me.’ Be a champion for positive change,” he said.
The student speaker at the commencement was Matthew Hayes, a Cumberland resident. He encouraged his fellow graduates to find their passion and stick to it instead of simply looking for a job to earn a living.
“Although the thought of graduating and obtaining a job with a real salary is very tempting, I urge all of you not to make a move unless your heart is in it,” he said.
“Passion is your intangible trait, it is what makes you stand out of a crowd, it is your unique quality. Find your passion and only great things can come from it,” he added.
Hayes also talked about the educational journey he and his classmates had been on over the last four years, the changes they been through, and the mistakes they had made and how they had learned from them. He concluded with his aspirations for the class of 2013.
“I hope all you will challenge yourself in ways you have never thought possible. I hope you all fall in love, I hope you all find passion in life, and most of all, I hope you that when wake up thirty years from today, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you are proud of the person you have become,” he said.
While a student at URI, Hayes started working for TeeSpring, a start-up technology company that allows users to raise funds through crowd-funded apparel sales. After an internship at RBS Citizens and the accounting firm Sullivan and Co., he returned to TeeSpring full-time as a strategic development planner.
“I like being part of something great, and I’m doing what I’m passionate about – helping a really awesome start-up grow,” he said in a press release.
In addition, URI’s first group of graduates from its ‘Finish What You Started” program commenced over the weekend. The program is for people who started their degree but did not complete it. Students work with a degree completion advisor who helps them develop a plan to finish their program.