Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Discovering More at URI

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy at the University of Rhode Island. Four events stand out: two evenings where special university awards were announced – the Rainville Leadership Awards and the Diversity Awards; and two symposia – one on Cybersecurity and then Discovery Day at URI. My guess is that everyone who attended discovered new things about what our students, faculty, and staff are doing that are, to recycle a phrase that I’ve used previously, “transforming the world.”

Let’s focus here on the awards, and then I will discuss the other events in a subsequent post. The University of Rhode Island has long been committed to developing leaders who make a difference. Our Leadership minor is a very popular and effective program that is a key part of our curriculum. In addition, there are innumerable opportunities for students to develop their leadership skills and to gain invaluable experience. Many of these are created and developed by the students themselves. URI seems to attract students who are committed to transforming the university and the world, and I conclude that we have built a climate here that encourages and supports our students in those efforts.

The students who won the Rainville leadership awards are all simply amazing. Lauren Creamer, Courtney O’Keefe, Valerie Damon-Leduc, and the students in the URI Violence Prevention Peer Advocates have had a tremendous, positive impact on the university, our neighboring communities, and beyond. Remarkably, they also excel in their academic work. They exemplify what is best about URI.

Last night, the Diversity Awards, which also reflect outstanding leadership, were presented to another amazing group of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Jason Almeida, Darnell Spencer, John Brito, Maxwell Edmonds, Michaela Cashman, Brandford Davis, the Gay – Straight Alliance, eXposure, WOWW, Bryana White, Tripp Hutchison, Amy Olson, Dr. Jody Lisberger, Dr. Mercedes Rivero Hudec, and Paul Hastings each represent a compelling testimony of courage and devotion to creating a just and equitable community where diversity is respected and honored. I believe that everyone present was inspired and encouraged by their example.

It’s easy in times like those we currently face to be discouraged and even angry at the conditions and challenges that confront us. It’s easy to simply focus on ourselves and our own priorities and goals. It’s easy to ignore, marginalize, resent, or blame others who we envy or regard as “different”. But the enduring testimonies of the individuals and groups honored over the past week speak to the contrary. They speak to taking action against anger, discouragement, and despair; they speak to courage in the face of adversity; they speak to commitment to make a difference. Most of all, they speak to hope.