Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Commencement 2014: URI to award honorary degrees to four distinguished leaders, May 18

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 4, 2014 -- The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the achievements of its students, and salute the accomplishments of four distinguished citizens at its 128th commencement exercises on Saturday and Sunday, May 17 and 18.

To honor their unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, the University will confer four honorary doctorates at Commencement. The Honorary Degree is the highest honor bestowed by the University and is reserved to recognize true distinction. The following individuals will be so honored:
• Richard Blanco, U.S. Inaugural Poet who will speak at commencement will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters
• LTG Michael T. Flynn, director, Defense Intelligence Agency, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
• Rev. Bernard LaFayette Jr., Civil Rights leader, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
• Anne Nolan, president and chief executive officer of Crossroads Rhode Island, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Following are brief biographies of each honored guest:

Richard Blanco, Poet, Author: One of today's most beloved and influential poets and storytellers, in 2013 Richard Blanco also became this nation's fifth inaugural poet, and the youngest person given the honor of preparing and presenting a signature poem. His poem, One Today, which he delivered at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, pays homage to the American experience. He is the first Latino, first immigrant, and first openly gay writer to have received such an honor.

As Blanco describes himself, he was "made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States." The son of Cuban exiles, he was raised and educated in Miami, and earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Florida International University. Blanco has been a practicing engineer, writer and poet since 1991 and he has traveled extensively in his adult life, living and working throughout Europe and South America. He has taught at Georgetown University, American University, Writer’s Center and Central Connecticut State University and was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. He also has participated in URI's annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. A resident of Bethel, Maine, Blanco will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters.

LTG Michael T. Flynn, 18th Director of Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency: A 1981 URI College of Business Administration graduate, LTG Flynn is a three-star Army general and serving as the 18th director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. During his 33 years of service at the highest levels of the U.S. Intelligence Community, he led the multinational intelligence effort in Afghanistan and became well known for his novel approaches to strategically gathering intelligence.

Through his writings and frequent congressional testimonies, the highly decorated officer clearly positions and communicates the Intelligence Agency's mission to help the nation and its leaders understand the threats it faces, and assists in decisions and actions that will help our country prepare for the future. Raised in Rhode Island, the nationally known expert on intelligence, cyber, special operations, and security has, for many years, brought his insights home to share with students, faculty and area businesses attending URI's annual high profile Cybersecurity Symposium.

In addition to his undergraduate degree from URI, Flynn holds a Masters of Business Administration in Telecommunications, from Golden Gate University, San Francisco; a Masters in the Military Arts and Sciences from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and a Masters in National Security and Strategic Studies from the United States Naval War College. He also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from The Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C. He resides with his family in Washington, D.C. Flynn will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater.

Rev. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., a distinguished senior scholar-in-residence, at Emory University's Candler School of Theology: LaFayette has been a Civil Rights movement hero and nonviolence activist for more than 50 years. A proponent of nonviolent resistance, he was a co-founder and leader of the 1960 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Nashville Sit-ins, and courageously participated in 1961’s Freedom Rides to help enforce federal integration laws on interstate busses. He then worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches that were critical to the eventual passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Through all of these actions and much more, LaFayette played a critical role in the movement toward non-violent racial equality in the United States.

An ordained minister and professor LaFayette co-founded and led the University of Rhode Island's Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies from 1999 through 2009. He also developed Kingian Nonviolence education and training programs and provided them in Rhode Island and around the world.

LaFayette earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tenn. and his master's and doctorate of education degrees from Harvard University. A resident of Tuskegee, AL., LaFayette and his wife, Kate have two sons. He will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Anne Nolan, president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island: Nolan is well known for opening new doors for many people in the Ocean State and for inspiring others to do the same. After volunteering as a member of the Crossroads' board and learning about the challenges of poverty and homelessness in Rhode Island, the former business executive chose to direct her decades of corporate leadership and management experience to really making a difference in the lives of others.

Since 2000, Nolan has led Crossroads' dedicated staff to implement the organization's core values of safety, respect, and effectiveness with rigorous accounting and management changes-- and humanity. Under her leadership, revenue at this private, non-profit has doubled and assets increased tenfold. The organization now has developed everything from permanent supportive housing units for singles, families, and homeless adults with disabilities, to the state's first permanent housing for homeless elders, a new women's shelter and the largest emergency shelter for families.

A resident of Cumberland, Nolan received an associate degree from Endicott Junior College, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Westfield State College, a master’s degree in education from McGill University, and a doctorate in education from the University of Illinois. Nolan will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.