As I write this, we have just given the class of 2014 a grand send-off at the University’s 128th commencement ceremonies. America’s barrier-breaking, award-winning inaugural poet Richard Blanco’s inventive and inspirational words [see opposite page] lifted our spirits and set the perfect tone: reflection and celebration rolled into one.
It seems only fitting to offer some brief comments about the years our newest graduates spent at URI, and in the process, to celebrate the many milestones we reached together.
Our Kingston campus has undergone a dramatic transformation in the time since members of the class of 2014 arrived. The College of Pharmacy has an incredible new home, featuring not only indoor classrooms equipped with human patient simulators that “respond” to a variety of medical situations and emergencies, but also a medicinal garden that will enhance research even as it inspires the meditative thought that has been a hallmark of university life through the centuries. And just this spring, we broke ground on the Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences, a $61-million state-bonded project that will further strengthen two of our premier and most popular areas of study.
I am proud that URI also recently broke ground on a new, free-standing LGBTQ Center, which, when finished, will be the first of its kind at any American institution of higher education. That is a real testament not only to our students, who pushed hard to make it happen, but also to supportive faculty and visionary administrators like Chief Diversity Officer Naomi Thompson and LGBTQ Center Director Annie Russell, who continue to launch exciting initiatives under the auspices of the Office of Community, Equity, and Diversity. LGBTQ people have made innumerable contributions to our country over its history; URI’s new center celebrates that simple fact while acknowledging that the decency and resilience of a community may be judged by how it treats those of its members who have been disadvantaged, marginalized, or ignored.
Other facilities have also improved the quality of life for our graduating seniors. The Anna Fascitelli Fitness & Wellness Center, along with the Ryan Family Student-Athlete Complex, enable all students, whether or not they belong to an athletics program, to stay in shape, balancing studies and fitness. Hillside Hall, our newest residence hall, is a true global living-learning community that promotes cross cultural understanding and enhances interaction of students from diverse backgrounds.
Grand Challenge Courses, established the year before most of our graduates arrived on campus, also underscore the growing international nature of the University. Coupled with a steady increase in travel abroad and study of foreign languages, these interdisciplinary classes, focusing on worldwide challenges, have helped position our students as savvy global citizens. Further, we have partnered with educational institutions in Asia, Europe, and South America, facilitating faculty and research exchanges as well as several new joint degree programs. And we continue to welcome more and more students, as well as distinguished faculty, from outside the U.S.
While we bade a fond farewell to the class of 2014, we did so with the understanding that no matter where their travels take them, they will always have a home at URI. When members of this class return to visit, as we hope they will, what will they find?
I expect they will be amazed at all that has changed. What brilliant new therapies for brain disease will emerge from the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience? How soon will our faculty discover new cures or therapies for infectious diseases, cancer, or other problems? How big will our newly launched J-term become? Will our basketball teams make a national impact in March Madness?
Change is the hallmark of a healthy, vibrant institution, signaling its capacity to seize opportunities that are just beyond the horizon. The entire URI community wishes the class of 2014 the very best as our newest alumni write their own next chapters. We know you are ready.
David M. Dooley