URI celebrates accomplishments of more than 400 graduates at new fall commencement ceremony

President Parlange tells graduates 'one of the hallmarks of a URI education and a defining feature of this community is service'

KINGSTON, R.I. – Dec. 18, 2023 – University of Rhode Island President Marc Parlange encouraged graduates at the University’s new fall commencement on Saturday to “lead with integrity, be courageous and act with generosity.”

Parlange and other URI officials offered words of encouragement and praise for the more than 400 graduates in front of family members and friends at URI’s Fall 2023 Commencement in the Ryan Center.

Flags representing the countries of the ceremony’s 18 international students greeted the students and their guests as they arrived at the Ryan Center. Inside, the URI Brass Quintet provided music before the ceremony, and current students Sam Giunta and Ricki Rizzo performed the national anthem and alma mater, respectively.

Banners representing the University’s 10 colleges provided the backdrop to the stage, and the message, “Congratulations Graduates,” was spotlighted in the video ribbon wrap. Red and white poinsettias on the stage added just the right touch of holiday cheer.

The fall ceremony—which honored doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degree recipients—is a new addition to the University’s commencement calendar, and is the result of conversations with recent graduates and current students who expressed interest in a December celebration. On average, more than 90 percent of URI graduates are employed or pursuing graduate studies within six months of graduation. By introducing a fall commencement, the University has provided a more immediate opportunity for graduates and families to celebrate their achievements.

An exultant graduate walks across the stage URI’s Commencement 2023.

First-generation graduate Jossue Hernandez, a Talent Development Scholar who received his bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice, was happy with the new commencement ceremony.

“Without this ceremony I would have had to wait another six months, and I am not sure I would have come back,” the Woonsocket resident said. “It is great to be a part of it today, part of a meaningful graduation.

“I had a great experience at URI,” said Hernandez, who hopes to become a member of the Rhode Island State Police. “It felt like home. Everyone, the faculty and staff, are so nice here.”

As Warwick’s Emily Hogan walked into the Ryan Center, she said she looked forward to a more intimate and efficient gathering.

“Now I can put that I have graduated on my resume, and start looking for jobs,” said Hogan, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in computer science. “I can start the next chapter of my life.”

She said she enjoyed her time at URI because she made great friends and that “my professors were great. They really work hard to help their students.”

Delaney Smith of Hanson, Massachusetts, received her Ph.D. in biology and will begin teaching two courses in the spring as an adjunct professor at Stonehill College. “I didn’t complete my dissertation until June, and having to wait a full year for the next commencement was not ideal. It’s nice that today’s ceremony is around Christmas so all my family could come, including my parents, grandparents, siblings, godfather and uncle.”

Jeremy Sylvester, originally of Gwinn, Michigan, and now a resident of Richmond, Rhode Island, received his Ph.D. in physics. The retired Navy lieutenant commander earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees while on active duty.

Sylvester said that he enjoyed the beautiful Kingston Campus, and added that “URI professors are very knowledgeable. The best part of my experience was the research. I published six papers, and I was the lead author on two.”

“When I look out across the audience today, I see scholars, parents, family, and most importantly friends,” said Parlange in opening his remarks. “You are a vibrant community built on relationships and partnerships that will last a lifetime.

“I also stand here today filled with a deep sense of pride,” the president said. “I am so proud of you and I admire your commitment and hard work that brought you here today–to this moment.”

Parlange said integrity is at the core of every action a person takes. “It’s the compass that will always lead you toward honesty and accountability. Live with integrity, it will help you stay true to your values even when faced with adversity and challenges.

“Be kind, have empathy,” he continued. “Generosity is not just about material giving, it’s about lifting others as you climb, extending a helping hand and fostering a sense of community wherever you go.”

Presiding member of the URI Board of Trustees, Charlie Fogarty, former lieutenant governor, state senator and recipient of a master’s degree in public administration from URI, thanked the graduates for the many ways they contributed to the University. “You look at us and you see the present,” Fogarty said. “But we look out at you and we see the future. And it’s a future that gives us a great sense of hope for our state, our country, and the world.”

Alfred J. “Al” Verrecchia, chair of the URI Foundation and Alumni Engagement Board of Directors, welcomed graduates to a new chapter in their affiliation with the University.

“I am honored to celebrate this milestone with you and to welcome you to the URI alumni community,” said Verrecchia, former chief executive officer and board chair at Hasbro and recipient of a bachelor’s degree, a master of business administration degree and an honorary degree, all from URI. 

“As graduates, you are now part of a network of more than 140,000 URI alumni around the world,” he said. “You have worked hard to be here today. The lessons learned from that hard work, the relationships you’ve formed, and the memories you’ve made will stay with you throughout your life.”

Parlange closed the ceremonies with a few final messages.

“Wherever your path takes you, remember one of the hallmarks of a URI education and a defining feature of this community is service. I have had the pleasure of seeing your acts of service show up in many different ways all across campus.

“Service is one of the simplest and most powerful forms of giving,” Parlange said. “Keep giving and I promise you will leave a legacy far greater than you can ever imagine. Congratulations again. I can’t wait to see where you go from here.”