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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Honorary degrees to be awarded at
URI's 114th Commencement

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 25, 2000 -- The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the achievements of its students, and salute the accomplishments of four distinguished citizens at its 114th commencement exercises on Sunday, May 21, 2000 at 12:30 p.m. on the URI Quadrangle in Kingston.

In recognition of their unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, the University will confer honorary degrees upon the following individuals during the commencement ceremony:

Lt. General Bruce Blount: Lt. General John Bruce Blount, an acclaimed military hero, is a member of the 50th anniversary class of URI 2000. General Blount is the first URI alumnus to rise to the rank of three-star general. He also holds the Korean Chung Mu and the US Army's Distinguished Service Medals. He served at every level of command in the United States army from platoon leader in Korea to the Commanding General of the Army's training center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He served in both the Korean War, where he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery, and the Vietnam War, where he was awarded the Silver Star. His final assignment was as Chief of Staff of Allied Forces South, a NATO assignment involving the orchestration of operations among our international allies. During the U.S. Army-McCarthy hearings of the mid-1950s, Blount won international acclaim for his stirring responses to difficult questions about the army. In addition to his military accomplishments, he has been involved in numerous community service activities including the American Heart Association, Army Emergency Relief, and the Association of the United States Army. As a URI student in the late 1940s, he was a favorite of the legendary Basketball Coach Frank Keaney and a standout Rhody player who scored more than 1,000 points during his playing days on campus and still holds the R.I. high school record of 66 points in one game. In the URI ROTC program, Blount rose to the highest cadet rank and was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1950. A resident of Columbia, S.C., Blount will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Porter Halyburton: A former Vietnam prisoner of war and military hero, Porter Halyburton will deliver the main address at the Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 21, at 12:30 p.m., and will also be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Born in Davidson, N.C., Halyburton left the United States in May of 1965 for Vietnam as a naval flight officer with his first squadron. During the following six months, he flew 75 combat missions before being shot down and captured on Oct. 17, 1965. He was the 40th American prisoner taken in North Vietnam. After his capture, he was listed as killed in action. A year and a half later, a Vietnamese informant revealed that he was still alive. He was held as a POW for seven-and-a-half years. In 1973, he was released following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Upon his return to the United States, Halyburton was assigned to the Naval ROTC Unit at Georgia Tech. During this time, he finished his graduate studies in Journalism at the University of Georgia. Halyburton was then assigned to the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where he has been on the faculty as professor of strategy since his retirement from active naval service as a commander in 1984. Halyburton's military decorations include the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars, seven Air Medals, a Navy Commendation Medal, and the POW Medal. The Department of the Navy awarded him the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. A resident of Bristol, R.I., Halyburton currently serves on the board of directors of Save Blithewold, Inc. He is a guest lecturer at Brown University, CCRI and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has served as president of the DeKalb Council for the Arts, chairman of the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities, chairman of the Blithewold Advisory Council, vice-chairman of The Heritage Trust of Rhode Island and senior warden of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Robert J. Higgins: Robert J. Higgins is a banking industry veteran with over thirty years of experience. Upon graduating with a major in English Literature from the University of Rhode Island in 1967, and after completion of two years of active service as an officer in the U.S. Army, he joined Fleet Bank in 1971 and was named president of Fleet International in New York in 1978. In 1981, he was appointed senior vice president and head of the international banking division, and in 1984 he became a vice president of the corporation with responsibility for the international and money management divisions. In 1986, Higgins was named president of Fleet Bank of Rhode Island and three years later was named executive vice president of Fleet Financial Group. In 1990, he was elected chairman and chief executive officer of Fleet Bank in Connecticut. In 1993, he was appointed vice chairman of Fleet Financial Group with responsibility for all commercial banking activities, and in 1997 he was named president and chief operating officer. He currently serves as president of Commercial and Retail Banking and a director of FleetBoston Financial. Higgins has also been a strong civic leader, and is a trustee of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, the Providence Foundation, and the National Conference, and has served on the boards of the Trinity Square Repertory Co. and Rhode Island Hospital. A strong supporter of higher education, Higgins has been instrumental in leading efforts to raise funds for student scholarships and other University needs. A resident of Providence, Higgins will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Reverend Dr. Virgil Wood: Reverend Dr. Virgil Wood serves as pastor of the Pond Street Baptist Church in Providence. An ordained minister since his early teens, Dr. Wood has served churches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia. He is nationally recognized as a church leader, educator, scholar, civil rights leader and activist who is committed to the struggle for economic and spiritual development among the nation's disadvantaged. Wood became actively involved with the civil rights movement during his years as pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. To carry out Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work, he established the Lynchburg Improvement Association, as a local unit of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In this capacity, he served closely with King and marched with him in many of the civil rights actions that radically changed the nation's racial environment. He has also worked with Dr. Leo Sullivan, founder of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, an organization that serves disadvantaged and unskilled Americans of all races. Wood served as a panelist and member of three White House conferences under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter. Wood is the president of the Minister's Alliance of Rhode Island, and founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund that has made the dream of a college education a reality for hundreds of Rhode Island students. He holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University. A resident of Providence, Wood will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

In addition to the honorary degrees being awarded at URI's 114th Commencement, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree was also awarded to Gregory & Anna Demetrakas of Cranston during a ceremony in late April at the URI Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence. The couple was honored for their caring spirit and lasting contributions to the University, the state, and to charities worldwide. Gregory is an accomplished entrepreneur and chief executive officer or general partner of five different Rhode Island companies: De-Mal Associates Incorporated, Cemet Holding Company, Zeus Realty, Hermes Investment Corporation, and Apollo Realty, Limited. Anna, a 1995 graduate of URI's Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education (FCCE), is a member of the College's Community Advisory Board and an active member of the Alumni Association.

For More Information: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-2116

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