Commencement Comes to Life

URI’s newest alumni walked across the stage at Meade Stadium in May. Get to know our student Commencement speakers and the Class of 2021 by the numbers.

Plans for Commencement were complicated, as COVID-19 restrictions changed rapidly throughout the spring. In the end, URI held its 135th Commencement—in-person—at Meade Stadium on May 21–23. Each college held a separate ceremony, allowing two family members per student to attend. Events were livestreamed and recorded for those not in attendance.

A prerecorded main ceremony included a keynote address from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who uncovered the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Addresses were also given by URI’s 2021 student Commencement speakers, Edhaya Thennarasu ’21 and Frank Martinez, M.A. ’21.

—Dave Lavallee ’79, M.P.A. ’87

Edhaya Thennarasu ’21

Undergraduate student speaker Edhaya Thennarasu ’21 received her B.A. in communication and media studies with a minor in theater. Originally from Chennai, India, Thennarasu had all but given up on pursuing higher education, finding school too mechanical and too focused on grades. She says URI changed that.

In her address, Thennarasu mourned the loss of snow days due to remote learning—“RIP snow days,” she said. And she praised the URI community’s response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests: “When I saw people in this community taking to the streets to support their brothers and sisters of color in a time of unbearable injustice, I learned that education means standing up for others and what you believe in, even if it is way out of your comfort zone.”

What’s next for Thennarasu? “My dream,” she says, “would be to work in the entertainment or journalism world, for a company like Disney.”

Thennarusu’s speech ended on an inspirational note: “Today is … a testament that every single one of you here are slingshots. If you are pulled back by the hardships of time, society, injustice, and circumstance, know that it is only to launch you forward, with unstoppable force and energy to make an indelible mark of excellence in the future.” •

Frank Martinez, M.A. ’21

Graduate School student speaker Frank Martinez, M.A. ’21, received his master’s degree in international relations. Originally from Cuba, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Havana, and lived in Washington, D.C., Miami, and Anaheim, California, before coming to URI.

In his address, Martinez said, “I have faith in the future. I was born and raised in Cuba and came to the United States in 2015. If you had told me six years ago that today I would be delivering this speech after graduating from a master’s program, I would have never believed you.

“What we have to learn to do,” he also said, “is to embrace different cultures and languages. My training in international relations and diplomacy at URI gave me the tools to not only embrace different cultures but to thrive in them.”

Martinez will attend Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University for a second master’s degree.

“I see myself working for the State Department or the United Nations in a policy-making role,” he says. “I would work anywhere in the world where I could contribute to the well-being of society, a country, or people.” •

CLASS OF 2021 BY THE NUMBERS

4,093Graduates
25Countries Represented
35States Represented
60%Women
40%Men
68Oldest Grad
17Youngest Grad
14Sets of Twins
27Veterans

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