URI holds an ALTERnative graduation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — July 2, 1999 — Walter Crocker, dean of the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education, looked over the graduation class and smiled. “This is the only class for which I don’t have to explain that Shepard’s was once a department store,” he said to laughter. The URI College in Providence makes its home in the renovated Shepard building. Accompanied by families and friends, 24 members of the first ALTER (Academy of Learning, Teaching, and Enlightenment in Retirement) class, received a certificate which qualified them to become Elder Teachers if they so desired. The new “teachers” will share life’s wisdom by using their own experiences as an example of human development. The new graduates could bring their knowledge to schools, businesses, or many other organizations. Some plan to teach in the ALTER program. The pioneering class was composed of Rhode Islanders who were all retired or about to be. Some of graduates were former factory workers, businessmen, housewives. A couple members held Ph.Ds. “Thank you for being the risk takers,” said Ginny Nardone, head of URI’s F-CCE Special Programs Office, which launched the program in the spring of 1998. “Education generally focuses on the external,” said Ed Lees, founder and coordinator of ALTER. “This program focuses on the internal. It brings people closer to themselves. As we approach the millennium, there seems a recognition in many corners that we need to revisit at our value system, especially in civic terms. We can’t accomplish this unless we look at ourselves in human and spiritual terms too. This program is attempt to help people do just that.” The graduates agreed. Many spoke of their own self discovery. “I’m a senior in progress,” announced Frances Shea. “Writing my memoirs invoked many feelings in me and brought me places I didn’t even want to go. I plan to be an ALTER teacher, assisting other people along the way.” Another student, David Moran, identified himself as a 68-year-old class clown. “This has been an enlightenment for me,” he said, proudly noting that his grandson wrote an essay about him taking the class. Tom Magill said Dr. Pat Feinstein, one of ALTER’s instructors asked him his favorite word. He told her serendipity. “I happened upon what I needed when I wasn’t in search of it,” he said, explaining he came to class with the intention of writing about his father. Instead he learned about himself. “You have learned to never stop learning,” said Anthony Zompa of the Department of Elderly Affairs who came to the graduation with some interesting statistics demographics: Rhode Island ranks third in population of people 65 and over. (Florida and Pennsylvania are first and second.) The state now has 239 residents who are over 100. A child born in 1996 will live 26 years longer than a child born in 1900. Zompa also said he worried about a society that places value on material items and not on humans, noting that as a society we place a high value on antiques, but don’t seem to value the vast knowledge of our older citizens. Dr. Pat Feinstein echoed a similar comment. “I prefer to say older AND wiser, not older but wiser.” Feinstein herself is a lifetime learner. Now 64, she said she began taking singing and piano lessons when she turned 57 and began taking Spanish lessons just a few years ago. Mary Keane, an editor by trade, retired last year. She noted that when she was a child, she escaped serious injury in a car accident. She overheard her parents saying that God must have saved her for a reason. Keane thinks ALTER might just be that reason. Keane wants to work with other, older students. Her mother wrote her memoir and said she found some peace. “It’s a wonderful legacy.” The ALTER class, Keane says, is about authenticity. “It’s about the heart ,instinct, and the human condition. Its being able to look inward and reach outward.” For coordinator Lees the evening held mixed emotions. He was obviously proud of his students accomplishments but graduation meant they would leave. “They aren’t just students, they are my friends,” he told the audience. For more information about ALTER call Lees at 401-277-5050. Graduates of the ALTER program and their hometowns are as follows: Gerald Archambault Coventry Ruth Pettigrew Cranston Shirley Mogan Cranston Robert Magill Cranston James Brown Cumberland Jane Kisseberth Cumberland The late Doris Prescott Lincoln Frances Shea Lincoln Susan Strockbine Clarke Newport M. Geraldine Fitzpatrick North Kingstown Cynthia Carter Pascoag David Moran Pawtucket Elizabeth Partridge Pawtucket Maurice Cleary Pawtucket Patricia Roy Providence Mary Ryder Providence Madge McCarthy Providence Elaine Kaufman Providence Mary Keane Wakefield Leona Figueredo Warwick Mary C. Braga Warwick Elizabeth Rasmussen Warwick Constance Williams West Warwick Jeanette Van Woodall Westerly -xxx- For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-5190