Salve students encouraged to work for peace

NEWPORT — Rose Albert, of North Providence, said she would not have graduated from Salve Regina University if not for God watching over her and guiding her along the way. “My accomplishments are thanks to my family, the support of my friends and my loved ones. I have closed one chapter in my life and I thank God for overseeing my every moves,” said Albert, 22, a native of Haiti.

Albert, the oldest of three children, is the first person from her family to graduate from college in the United States.

“I have closed one chapter in my life and I thank God for overseeing my every move,” she said. “Now that the roads of the real world is open for me, I am eager to plan my life and see where the journey of life will take me.”

The same can be said for all 669 graduates who received graduate and bachelor’s degrees, as well as doctorates and certificates of advanced graduate studies, during Salve Regina’s 63rd commencement on May 19.

Thousands of proud parents, relatives and friends gathered under a large white tent on the oceanside lawn of McAuley Hall to congratulate the graduates, many of who, like Albert, are the first persons in their family to graduate college.

“It’s a wonderful, happy day. I know we’re all happy,” said Salve Regina University Chancellor Sister M. Therese Antone, RSM, who during her invocation called upon the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost to bless the proceedings.

“Once again, we send forth from this place women and men ready to meet life’s challenges,” said Sister Antone, who also called upon the graduates to work toward breaking the chains of bigotry and injustice and to work for peace.

Newport City Councilor Naomi L. Neville and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline also addressed the graduates to congratulate them for their hard work and to commend them for the various community service projects many of Salve Regina’s students complete during the academic year.

Master stone carvers Nicholas W. Benson and his father John E. Benson, proprietors of Newport’s centuries-old John Stevens Shop, were presented with honorary degrees. The Bensons are the artists behind such works as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the World War II Memorial and the John F. Kennedy Memorial.

“This is a big day for families of graduates. Nothing compares with the delight a parent feels when her or his child turns out well,” John E. Benson said.

“The simple question for the Class of 2013 may be phrased in a simple question,” Benson added, “What are you going to do now?”

Nicholas W. Benson talked about the painstakingly slow process of carving stone and the long tradition behind it. The value of tradition, he said, is often questioned today, but he urged the graduates to think twice about tradition.

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire,” he said. “My advice to you is to give tradition a longer and more critical look before you chuck it out the window.”

The younger Benson also spoke of hard work and perseverance, and urged the graduates to appreciate all of life’s moments.

“This is it. This is your life,” he said. “Enjoy it. Sustain it. Endure it. Love it. Live it.”

Sister Jane Gerety, the president of Salve Regina University, said she arrived at the university the same year – 2009 – that many of the graduates began their studies. She called the Class of 2013 a “small but mighty class” that witnessed several tragic events during their years at Salve Regina, including an economic meltdown, terrorist attacks, mass shootings and a tsunami.

Sister Gerety said the graduates helped relieve the sufferings of victims, such as rebuilding a primary school in Haiti, and partnering in anti-bullying efforts.

“In the wake of tragedy, we look for the helpers and we find them there,” Sister Gerety said. “We find them among you Salve Regina graduates.”

Rose Albert, the graduate from Haiti, now has bachelor of arts degree with a full time job in a nursing home. She is currently looking for a graduate job, but will be taking a year off for financial reasons.

“But my parents are already reminding me that this is not the end and I am working on making my application to attend graduate school in 2014,” Albert said.

Nicholas Gaj, 21, of Pawtucket, also earned his bachelor’s degree and will be working in Newport at the Edward King House Senior Center as a programming coordinator.

“Graduation was great; all of the speakers were amazing,” Gaj said, “And it’s nice to finally see the past 16 years of hard work pay off.”