Published 05/25/12

Bryant Celebrates 149th Commencement

May 25, 2012

"Bryant University's idea is very special: that every grad of the College of Business also has a minor in liberal arts, and that every grad of the College of Arts and Sciences also has a minor in business administration. This is truly path breaking, and just what’s needed in today’s society.” Jeffrey Sachs, Ph.D., director of The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Family and friends of graduating seniors filled every seat at the 149 th undergraduate ceremony on May 19. A more intimate ceremony on May 17 recognized those who earned graduate degrees, some working full time while raising families.

Jeffrey Sachs, Ph.D., director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, gave the keynote address May 19 and received an honorary degree. Also receiving honorary degrees were: Claudio Del Vecchio , chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers Group, Inc., and executive director of Luxottica Group; Nina Zolt,   co-founder and chief learning officer at ePals Inc.; Cheryl Merchant, CEO of Hope Global; and Gina Raimondo, General Treasurer of Rhode Island.

Called “the most important economist in the world,” by The New York Times , Sachs is one of the leading voices for combining economic development with environmental sustainability. He currently serves as special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and was director of the United Nations Millennium Project and special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a member of the Brookings panel of economists and the board of advisors of the Chinese Economists Society, the author of best-selling Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet and The End of Poverty , and a syndicated columnist published in more than 50 countries. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Sachs received a B.A. from Harvard College and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.

Cheryl Merchant, president and chief executive officer of Hope Global, a midmarket company located in Cumberland, R.I., that manufactures engineered textile solutions for automotive, commercial, and industrial use, delivered the graduate school keynote address. Under her leadership over the past 13 years, Hope Global Engineered Textile Solutions, formerly Hope Webbing, has more than doubled its revenue, product lines, and markets, evolving into a global enterprise with headquarters in Rhode Island that includes a research and development facility. Merchant’s 27 years of experience in the automotive industry include stints at General Motors, Mazda, Ford Motor Company, and the Lear Corporation.

 An active member and past chair of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, Merchant’s community outreach continues as a member of the Rhode Island Commodores and a trustee of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Alma College and continued her graduate studies at Oakland University.

Gina Raimondo was elected Rhode Island General Treasurer in November 2010. She dedicated her first year in office to redesigning Rhode Island’s state-administered public employee pension system, which culminated in the passage of comprehensive pension reform. A TIME magazine article in November 2011 stated, “Such an unexpected outbreak of responsible leadership didn’t just pull Rhode Island back from the brink… it also suggested that difficult, self-sacrificing decisions are still possible.”

Prior to being elected general treasurer with an overwhelming majority, Raimondo worked for a decade as co-founder and general partner of Point Judith Capital, a venture capital firm, and served as senior vice president of fund development at Village Ventures. She is the vice chair of the board of directors of Crossroads Rhode Island, where she played a key role in launching a new shelter for homeless women. She is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, and she was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

Claudio Del Vecchio is the chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers Group, Inc., the premier retail and manufacturing group that includes Brooks Brothers, Southwick, and Carolee Designs. He is also executive director of Luxottica Group, the world's largest eyewear manufacturer. As a young child, Del Vecchio helped his father in the Luxottica eyeglass factory in Agordo, Italy, learning virtually every area of manufacturing. At the age of 24, he established the company’s first direct distribution organization outside of Italy. He came to the United States in 1982 and was instrumental in transforming the company into a premier factory-direct eyewear organization. Through Luxottica’s purchase of The United States Shoe Company in 1995, they acquired Lenscrafters and the Casual Corner Group stores, later renamed Retail Brand Alliance, Inc. In 2001, Retail Brand Alliance acquired Brooks Brothers.

Among his many awards and distinctions, Del Vecchio has been recognized for his extensive philanthropic work including the establishment of The Golden Fleece Foundation, a Brooks Brothers charity that has raised millions on behalf of prominent national charities.

Nina Zolt is the co-founder and chief learning officer at ePals Inc., the leading education media company and social media learning network. ePals is currently in use in more than 300,000 schools, nearly 800,000 classrooms, and by many millions of users in all 200 countries and territories. Zolt’s work in education has focused on improving learning opportunities for all students in a digital age. She has extensive experience as an education activist, entertainment lawyer, digital media executive, and designer of digital learning products. Early in her career she worked at ABC, NBC, Capital Records, and Kaleida (a joint venture between Apple and IBM). She created In2Books, ePals’ flagship curriculum-based eMentoring program for low-income students. She is the lead author of the In2Books Genre Guides and a co-author of Getting Children In2Books: Engagement in Authentic Reading, Writing and Thinking (Phi Delta Kappan, 2007). She has an A.B. from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Boston University School of Law. She received an honorary doctorate from National Louis University in 2004.