Commencement 2021: Corporate executive, community activist John Heroux finishes what he started 35 years ago

PROVIDENCE – April 26, 2021 – At 55 years old, it seemed as if John Heroux had it all—a long, successful career in financial services, a loving family, an active lifestyle, a strong faith-based life, and a positive presence in the community.

But one thing was missing—a college degree.

“It was number one on my bucket list,” he said.

He attended college for a short time after high school, but left to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather to work in sales for the John Hancock Insurance Company in Boston. There, he worked his way up and became the head of sales training, where he supervised a staff of 17 and created virtual training experiences.

Fifteen years later, he took a position at Massachusetts Financial Services to gain more global experience, traveling extensively to offices in Canada, London, Australia, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Heroux retired 18 years later as a senior vice president after a well-rounded, lucrative career.

“I always felt there was a gap in my life,” said Heroux, who has family homes in Woonsocket and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

It was time to get that degree. This time, he would be following his mother’s lead; she earned her bachelor’s degree in English from URI at age 53.

He enrolled at URI through the Finish What You Started program and met with adviser Jeff Johnson to plan a curriculum track to earn a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in business institutions.

“John represents everything a Finish What You Started student should be—determined, thoughtful, and generous. From the first moment I spoke with him, I knew he would be successful at URI and bring his years of experience to the classroom,” said Nancy Rabidoux, degree completion coordinator for Finish What You Started & Performance Based Admissions.

At first, Heroux was intimidated by being the oldest person in the class. “How is someone like me going to be perceived?” he said. “I was the only student with gray hair.”

But Heroux said he found it easy to connect with the younger students and told them that he would bring “real-world experience to the classroom.”

The coursework, he said, was overwhelming, but he put his mind to it, and even finished assignments early.

Then it happened again. Heroux had to put his educational journey on hold when his parents became ill and needed his help. When that situation was under control, he and Jeff Johnson formulated an aggressive two-year curriculum plan to graduate.

“John’s journey at URI is only a piece of the puzzle. He will pursue new goals because that’s what leaders do,” Johnson said.

Heroux admits that having a successful career in financial services deterred his educational pursuits, and regrets not getting a degree sooner.

“I think about where I started and how I was able to transition at 55 years old,” Heroux said.

He will graduate in May summa cum laude.

What’s next for John Heroux?

He is enrolled in the URI master’s degree in adult education program and hopes his background in training adults will be beneficial in this endeavor.

And, he will be able to cross off the first entry on his bucket list.