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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI 2010 Student Commencement Speech

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Erica Richard of Smithfield, R.I.
Marketing major, art and leadership minor

The Five People You Have Met at URI

Good afternoon parents, professors, honored guests, and class of 2010. What an honor and privilege it is to be speaking here before you at this monumental celebration of learning and achievement. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the growth we have undergone as students at the University of Rhode Island during the past four, five or for the indecisive six years. I would like to reflect on the some of the unique stories that compose our journey to becoming the young adults we are today.

In Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Will Meet in Heaven, he says, “each life affects the other and the other affects the next and the whole world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.”

We all have our own unique, funny, tragic and longwinded stories to tell. However, I think you will agree, “No story sits by itself. Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river." To borrow Mitch Albom’s idea, let’s call this story the five people you have met at URI.

The first person you met at URI was your roommate freshman year. This story could have gone one of two ways. Perhaps you are turning to him or her now, grinning and giggling at four years of inside jokes. For others that roommate taught you that you really aren’t that good at sharing or can you tolerate snoring or body odor. We have all had our complaints about stolen snacks or borrowed clothing. But we have also all had great nights when we didn’t sleep because we were laughing too hard. For better or for worse our first college roommate opened us up and taught us things we didn’t know; for that we have grown.

The second person you met at URI was your mentor. My mentor introduced me to new music, taught me how to step outside of my box by dancing away my worries while she played an African drum and wore a Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin box on her head. Some of us found comfort in graduate students or upper classmen, or found mentors in the Greek system, in our religious beliefs, or in the classroom. Still others found them at work, on the quad, or in the locker room. Some of us found them in coaches and conductors, on the field and in your field, behind the curtain or in the studio, on the newspaper staff, or in the water. Maybe you found your mentor in the alphabet of acronyms: from WOWW to NSBE, ASA to SEC, PRS to WRIU. Mentors came in many different shapes and sizes here at the university. And for such a big school they were the people who made it feel like home.

The third person you met at URI was a friend. Sometimes this friend changed daily; sometimes they were constant and unwavering. The friend is often the one who has encouraged you at your best and your worst. Procrastinating on papers, dragging you to the gym, forcing you to participate in off campus shenanigans, or high five-ing you after getting that awesome internship or an A+ on that epic paper –your friend has been there through it all. Our friends have made URI the experience of a lifetime.

The fourth person you met at URI was a professor who believed in you. On the other hand we have all had that professor who stood in front of the class and said; “I am the only thing standing between you and graduation,” or “do good work and you’ll get a good grade, don’t and you won’t.” Taking the good with the bad we have also all had at least one professor who challenged us to think about the world in a different way, who frustrated and supported us at the same time. They asked: “What is the truth and how do we know it? “ They told us that knowledge is like approaching a limit getting infinitely close but never touching it. This professor inspired us in our careers and our lives, they shared themselves so that we may grow. Every college in the university no matter how big or small has those teachers who make URI a university that thinks big.

Finally the last person you met at URI was someone who looked up to you. After you stumbled and struggled through your four years there was a student who considered you a mentor, and you molded that person’s experience. Your time at URI has now come full circle; from mentee to mentor we were obligated to share what we have learned. Long talks driving down the windy roads along the shore, Frisbee games on the quad, advice about professors, or perhaps being a bad influence; ‘our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch”.
Of course there have been many more than five people you met at URI, countless people have touched our lives. Remember to thank them and take the lessons you learned out into the world. Touch other people’s lives. Share your stories because you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.

Storytelling is a great art, often forgotten. Yann Martel says, “The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it. And in understanding something, we bring something to it, that makes life a story.”

Native Americans believe that it takes a thousand voices to tell even just one story. So, just like the five people you will meet well…. anywhere, you will make a difference in a thousand people’s lives. Let today be the beginning of many stories, understand your stories will be long and exciting but not without a few hardships. It is how you act in the face of everything that makes you the hero in your stories.

URI has been the beginning to all of our stories as young adults. Be proud, wear that Keaney blue business suit with style. You have worked so hard and already accomplished so much, so in your story be bold! Today you are wearing square-shaped mortarboards; tomorrow you will be wearing a hat of a different variety. Try on all kinds. Go out there and do something remarkable! Make a plan, but realize you don’t always need to stick to it. No one actually reads the table of contents anyways. Don’t worry, some poems don’t rhyme and some stories don’t have clear beginnings middle or ends; it’s ok not to know where you are going; just remember to always make your story an action adventure. Live your life from your heart and your story will touch other people’s souls. Remember that all endings are also beginnings. May the story of our lives bring us great adventures, which we will meet with enthusiasm and wit. Congratulations Class of 2010, we did it!

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.