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

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 25, 2000 -- The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the achievements of its students, and salute the accomplishments of three 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.

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, Rhode Island. 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.

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For Information: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-2116