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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI ‘Golden Grads’ to help lead granddaughter’s commencement procession

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 25, 2006 -- When Arlene and John Leyden graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1956, they never expected they would help lead their granddaughter Erin Leyden’s commencement procession 50 years later.

As is tradition, the members of the 50th class reunion lead the procession, followed the faculty and graduates. This year’s undergraduate commencement exercises will be held on Sunday, May 21.

“It feels like just yesterday we were the ones graduating,” said John.

Arlene, a Sigma Kappa alumna and John, a Theta Chi alumnus, met at URI while each was trying to set the other up with a friend. In the process the two fell for each other, and married soon after they graduated. This June they will celebrate their own golden anniversary.

“This is quite a year for us,” said Arlene.

Although they did not earn their degrees in education, the East Greenwich couple each enjoyed a 30-year teaching career. Arlene taught second grade at Coventry Elementary School, and John taught agricultural classes at Scituate Junior-Senior High School. Erin will earn a double degree in psychology and elementary education and pursue a teaching career as well.

“My grandparents’ love for teaching and passion for education really had a big influence on me while I was growing up,” said Erin, who is student- teaching this semester at Peace Dale Elementary School. “I have known since I was five that I wanted to be a teacher. My mother is also a teacher, so a love for wanting to help children must run in my family.”

Arlene and John said they are thrilled their granddaughter is going to follow in their footsteps. “Erin is a natural born teacher,” John said. “She really has a knack for helping children.”

Arlene added, “We know she will be a good educator, and we need good educators for the future of this country.”

The Leyden family’s background involving children and education extends beyond the classroom, as John also used his degree in environmental and life sciences to start Big John’s Christmas Tree Farm in West Greenwich in 1970. The farm continues to serve as a popular attraction for children and their families in late November and December.

“I essentially grew up working on the Christmas tree farm,” said Erin, who, like her grandparents, lives in East Greenwich. “There hasn’t been one year that I haven’t been a part of helping my grandparents with everything we do there, from planting and growing the trees to helping entertain the kids who come on field trips.”

Erin said she is proud to go out and use her URI education to positively influence children, as her grandparents did after they graduated,” she said. “Even if it’s just a small one, I know I too will be making a difference.”

Erin, John, and Arlene (l-r) at a Leyden family gathering. Photo courtesy of the Leydens.