Community College of Rhode Island President Ray Di Pasquale was hopeful James Flanagan, son of the late William Flanagan and the college’s founding president, would say one thing at the college’s opening day convocation Thursday morning.
Flanagan didn’t disappoint.
Addressing about 400 faculty and friends of the college, Flanagan said, “50 years ago today my dad opened this college.”
Thus the college recognized a significant milestone that will be celebrated with a series of activities over the coming months, culminating with graduation ceremonies on May 15, 2015.
Flanagan said in its first 50 years, the college has grown from an enrollment of 330 students and a faculty of 28 to an institution with more than 60,000 alumni, a faculty of 1,200 and an enrollment approaching 18,000.
He said he could think of no greater accomplishment, and that he and his family are honored to be a part of the energy and excitement of the anniversary celebration.
While the past was highlighted, what the college is today and its role in the future of the state were underlying themes to the convocation and the annual “welcome back” remarks from the college president, deans and union representatives.
“We’re back and recharged. We’re going to start the next 50 years,” Di Pasquale said.
In his “state of the college” remarks, Di Pasquale highlighted the growth of the institution from its beginnings at the former Brown and Sharpe factory building in Providence to the four campuses and two satellite locations it has today. He also noted that the associate degree in nursing continues to be one of its most popular programs.
“We can proudly say that CCRI provides the most health care workers in the state,” he said.
Di Pasquale also said legislators and the governor continue to support the Warwick Renewal Project, which allocates $20 million over the next five years to a comprehensive facelift of the Knight Campus, and that CCRI tuition is unchanged for the third consecutive year
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena called CCRI a “success story to share,” and said the college is a place “where you can follow your dream and reach your goal.”
Polisena is a two-time graduate, earning degrees in 1982 and 1985. He said CCRI made his education affordable.
Like other speakers, Shawn Parker, president of the CCRI Faculty Association, referenced the 50th anniversary. He also talked about the faculty and administrators.
Referring to his colleagues, he said, “None of us are here by accident.”
He said all had been chosen by people who would become their colleagues.
“We are all here because our colleagues saw in every one of us an aptitude and dedication to offer a valuable college education to everyone who walks through the door … everyone from students who have plenty of other options to those who face challenges that are barriers to attendance at other colleges.”
It was President Flanagan’s words, quoted by Di Pasquale, that defined not only the college’s mega-structure, but also its mission.
“It doesn’t try to be a junior varsity imitation of a major university,” Flanagan said in a 1969 magazine article about the design of the Knight Campus, “but realizes its function and accomplishes it without being tied to the traditions of the big campus. It provides an environment for learning, suited to the youth of today and the future. In a limited time, our students may be exposed to many fields of knowledge … students will mix and be encouraged to search for learning to the limit of their ability.”
The first of the 50th anniversary events is the 20th annual Fall Golf Classic to be held Sept. 15 at Alpine Country Club. On Sept. 24, a time capsule not to be unearthed until 2064 will be buried at the Knight Campus. A re-dedication ceremony is planned for the Bobby Hackett Theater in November. Additional activities are being planned throughout the year.
And in fitting tribute to the college’s first president, Di Pasquale closed the convocation with another Flanagan quote, which he said, “Explains why we are all here today and brings our history to date full circle.”
Quoting Flanagan, Di Pasquale said, “May all who are with us this day catch something of the fire that lights our hearts as we begin.”