CLRI graduates prepare to make waves in uncertain times

“In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This Eric Hoffer quote, spoken by Leadership Rhode Island Executive Director Mike Ritz, LRI ’07, during every College Leadership Rhode Island graduation for the past 10 years, carried more significance for the CLRI Class of 2020 than perhaps any class that has come before.

Graduates of the 2020 College Leadership Rhode Island class

The global pandemic forced the group of budding leaders to face a first in the program’s history: a virtual graduation, eschewing the traditional presentation of certificates and stroll across a stage in favor of a Zoom ceremony. The celebration, held on May 8, kicked off with an appropriate anthem, “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, and featured an array of guest speakers and congratulations from far and wide. Though it was a joyful event, the backdrop of COVID-19 was ever present.

The effect on the Rhode Island and national workforce has been profound since stay-at-home mandates to control the spread of COVID-19 emerged in late March. More than 218,000 workers have filed for unemployment insurance in the Ocean State, and more than 36 million have filed nationwide. A Goldman Sachs report predicts that unemployment will peak at a staggering 25% of all Americans, rivaling the worst periods of the Great Depression.

For recent or soon-to-be college graduates, those numbers forecast a daunting reality that awaits them once they have their diplomas in hand. Almost every industry has been forced to pivot, adjust, and come to grips with the short-and long-term effects of the stricture on commerce and daily life. —  restaurants have been forced to shut their doors, countless businesses have shifted their models, and school campuses have closed down in favor of remote learning.

But all hope is not lost, according to LRI Deputy Director Michelle Carr, LRI ‘14, who spoke at the CLRI commencement ceremony.

“I’m here tonight to welcome you, not only as the Deputy Director, but also as someone who graduated college in 2008 during the Great Recession. I remember my college commencement. At one point, I gazed off, my chest filled with anxiety about not having a job, and my thoughts racing about the uncertain road ahead,” Carr said.  “For you right now, there’s an imminent reality setting in. Signs of a new economic recession all around us mean that your career might not start off the way you had hoped . . . But if history is any indicator, I encourage you to trust that this is only temporary. This, too, shall pass.”

2020 CLRI class speaker, Thomas Heavren

For peer-elected CLRI 2020 Class Speaker Tommy Heavren, a Providence College graduate who is pursuing a master’s degree at the Boston College School of Social Work, with a focus on social innovation and leadership, though the task ahead is formidable, it is filled with opportunity.

“The CLRI class of 2020, much like the LRI Pi II class, will forever hold a legacy for being conferred and commissioned in the heart of the worldwide pandemic. We are all facing a volatile, uncertain, complex horizon. Yet we have spent this past year growing, building, and preparing for the inevitable tests and trials of leadership today,” Heavren said.

“We are a sample of the next wave of impact in Rhode Island, crashing to shore at a time when leadership is tested, questioned, and desperately summoned. We have a choice. We have a voice. We can choose to seize this chance to fix what is broken, to employ our strengths and our gifts in whatever ways we believe are meaningful to others. We can take what we have learned here together, our skills, relationships, confidence, and help our communities grow stronger, healthier and happier.”

Change has often felt like the only constant in the past few months, though in the current economy, some age-old advice for job seekers remains the same: it’s not so much what you know, as who you know. Studies have shown that 85% of jobs are filled via networking of some sort, a statistic that may rise even further as open positions remain scarce.

Scott Seaback LRI ‘14, president of RI Temps

“Relationships will often make the difference between getting an interview and not getting an interview,” says Scott Seaback LRI ‘14, president of RI Temps, which specializes in supplying temporary and permanent staffing to Rhode Island corporations.

“There has never been a better time to leverage the LRI and CLRI alumni networks. Those connections can lead to introductions, which can lead to opportunity.”

As the world shifts to working remotely — a recent Gallup study found that two thirds of U.S. workers have worked remotely during coronavirus — networking to find a job has shifted to the virtual space, as well.

This recent study conducted by Gallup shows that the amount of employees working from home in the United States has doubled since the Coronavirus pandemic began.

Natalia Lara (2020 Pi II), Employer Engagement for Opportunity@Work

“One of the things that is shifting nowadays and that people are paying close attention to is how to build and develop your network from scratch,” shares Natalia Lara, a 2020 Pi II class member, who works in employer engagement for Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those without four-year degrees find employment in tech-enabled positions. “The default setting is that you have to know someone to get your foot in the door, but you can build your network virtually over LinkedIn. It’s vital for making connections, gathering information, and establishing yourself. Reach out to people you’re impressed with or companies you’re interested in. I’ve seen that work, and it will become increasingly important in the months and years to come.”

During the CLRI virtual commencement, Carr offered some additional advice that she wished she had known as she set out to conquer the job market as a concerned college graduate:

Leadership Rhode Island Deputy Director, Michelle Carr ’14


  • Embrace this liminal period, the state of transition between one chapter and the next.
  • Lean into this discomfort and vulnerability.
  • Develop many possible selves; be open to imagining many possible futures.
  • Choose to be resilient. It is not healthy to stay in crisis mode long-term.
  • Try new things with new people.
  • Stay curious.
  • Talk decisions out with trusted advisors, aka your own personal board of directors.
  • Lean on each other. Take care of yourself.
  • Chase ordinary moments that give life meaning. Hold on to hope for the future.
  • Stay happy, healthy, well and, most importantly, safe.
  • Stay connected.

Building relationships and developing networking skills are CLRI and LRI dividends. In a time during which isolation is one of the only effective prescriptions to fight the spread of COVID-19, the CLRI community is a powerful tool for any recent graduate to have in their arsenal.

“Small and intimately connected, we are all members of this proud community that, as we have learned all year, takes care of one another through our work and involvement. There are people here who don’t just make a living, but make an impact that can be felt statewide,”  Heavren said in the closing stanzas of his commencement speech.

“As we all chart our journeys forward, we should ask ourselves what kinds of impacts we want to make in a new reality . . .  I think you’ll find that CLRI has become intricately intertwined in your vision, aspirations, and even your identity. As we move forward as alumni, and are conferred and commissioned to continue serving and leading our communities, I urge that we stay connected and continue supporting one another as we have all year. We will all need good companions for this part of the ride.”


Applications and nominations for the 2021 CLRI class are open through Sunday May 31st and can be found here.

Leadership, Virtually: Working alongside the talented and exceptionally versatile Leadership Rhode Island team on this initiative is an alumnae team with expertise in journalism, communication, digital technology, and nonprofit excellence. They are charged with chronicling this time of bringing people together virtually to make connections and offer critical support.

Luann Edwards, LRI ’19, is founder of Socially Professional, a social media marketing consultancy. You’ll find her at the intersection of communication and technology, where some of the most meaningful connections are happening. As a strategist, she meets a challenge with a plan and tenacity. She’s grateful to be a small part of the leadership that our state, and Leadership Rhode Island, is bringing to this unprecedented time.
Strategic | Learner | Context | Connectedness | Input

Jane Nugent, Ed.D. LRI ‘95, nonprofit professional in RI since 1982, believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to be the key problem solvers for society.  She has witnessed the power of Rhode Island community based groups provide the greatest good for the greatest number over a long period of time. She has worked with many groups in the state and knows that this time will be no different than difficult times past — they will rise to the occasion and lead the way.
Learner | Analytical | Individualization | Relator | Achiever

Ashley Rappa, LRI’19, founder of Human Writes Consulting and Director of Marketing & Communication at Lincoln School, is a writer at heart and a Rhode Islander by choice. At her best, she believes in the power of words to elevate our lives, and the deep beauty of human connection. At her worst, she still believes that, but likely needs more coffee.
Input | WOO | Communication | Empathy | Positivity

Carol Young, LRI ’92, After 45 fabulous years at the Providence Journal, she bid adieu to the Fourth Estate.  Ten  years later, she still has printer’s ink in her blood and welcomes opportunities to work with writers while  keeping her editing skills sharp.
Harmony | Achiever | Learner | Communication | Significance