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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI to confer six honorary degrees during its 118th Commencement ceremonies

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 3, 2004 -- One is the CEO of an international company, another is a four star general, yet another a health care manager who works with vulnerable populations, then there is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and another who had been a tireless advocate for higher education. Five individuals will receive honorary degrees from University of Rhode Island at its 118th Commencement undergraduate ceremonies on Sunday, May 23. Herbert Leon MacDonnell will receive his honorary degree during the graduate ceremonies on Saturday, May 22. The recipients are:


o Matt Gallant of Los Angeles Calif., popular host of "The Planet's Funniest Animals" will be the University's commencement speaker. The URI alumnus, class of 1986, has provided humorous commentary between video clips of antics and pratfalls of a variety of animals for the past five years. Since Gallant's show airs daily on the Animal Planet cable channel, Gallant has achieved celebrity status. Off-camera, Gallant uses his celebrity to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.



o Alfred J. Verrecchia of Warwick, president and chief executive officer of Hasbro, Inc. A Rhode Island native, Verrecchia joined Hasbro in 1965 as a junior accountant, two years before earning his accounting degree from URI. Five years later, while working full-time at Hasbro, he earned his master’s of business administration in finance from URI. While Hasbro expanded its line and acquired numerous companies to become an international leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of games and toys, Verrecchia grew along with the company, climbing the ranks by holding increasingly senior executive positions.

The executive has always found time for his alma mater, serving as a former president and current board member of URI's College of Business Administration Advisory Council. The Alfred J. Verrecchia-Hasbro Inc. Leadership Chair in Business was established in 1997, thanks to his and his employer’s generosity. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

o U.S. Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte of Seoul, Korea earned the highest rank in the Army - four star general - in 2002 after 34 years of military experience. He is commander of United Nations and combined Republic of Korea and U.S. forces in the Republic of Korea.

LaPorte grew up Providence where he attended public schools and graduated from URI in 1968. As a young officer, he served as a combat aviator in Vietnam. He later served as chief of staff for the 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Desert Storm.

By all accounts, the general is a soldier's soldier, never asking the men and women who serve under him to do anything he would not be willing do. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

o Stephanie Danforth Chafee of McLean, Virginia, a trained nurse and health care manager, has quietly dedicated her professional life to working with medically under-served. While her last name gains immediate recognition because her husband is a U. S. Senator, Stephanie Chafee has had an impact on health care in Rhode Island. She co-founded the Rhode Island Free Clinic in 1998 in Providence, which offers free medical care to the working poor without health insurance. She has served on task forces and advisory committees and worked with Rhode Island Project AIDS to deliver care to HIV positive patients. All of her collaborations with other health care professionals including those in URI's College of Nursing has had one focus --the well-being of the patient. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

o Herbert Leon MacDonell of Corning, N.Y. relies on bloodstains, bullets, and fingerprints to tell him "whodunit." He has testified or consulted for both the prosecution and the defense in hundreds of homicides, including such high- profile cases as the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the trial of O. J. Simpson.

The criminalist earned a master's degree in chemistry from URI in 1956. One of MacDonell's patented inventions, the MAGNA Brush, is so sensitive that it can detect fingerprints on Kleenex and is used by crime solvers all around the world. He also co-authored the definitive text on bloodstain analysis. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

o Deborah Smith of North Kingstown is the director of external affairs for Gov. Donald Carcieri. She served on the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education for 10 years. As chair of the Board's Student Affairs Committee, Smith was instrumental in establishing a "student voice" on the Board. She is the former senior vice president for civic and community affairs for Old Stone Bank, past director of Leadership Rhode Island, and past president of the board of the Urban League of Rhode Island, and holds leadership roles on numerous non-profits. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.


Click here for a list of the University's previous Honorary Degree recipients.