URI student commencement speaker comes from Woonsocket

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KINGSTON, R.I. –April 27, 2011–If something really scares University of Rhode Island senior Valerie Damon-Leduc, she runs toward whatever is frightening her, rather than away from it.

Take public speaking, for example. When she was a sophomore, she took a leadership class. “We went around the class and everyone had to introduce themselves and say something about their lives. I was so nervous, I thought about dropping the class,” recalls the 22-year-old senior from Woonsocket. “Instead, I took public speaking classes whenever I could and spoke to groups whenever I got the opportunity. Finally, I got better and much more comfortable.”

Damon-Leduc will display her speaking skills on Sunday, May 22 when, as student commencement speaker, she will address an audience of nearly 15,000 gathered on the URI quad during undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

URI, says the Rhode Island native, was her last choice of colleges, but the honor student and her parents, Gail and Glen Leduc were given an offer that couldn’t be refused: a full, four-year Centennial Scholarship at the state’s flagship University.

“I believe it was meant to be,” says the vivacious soon-to-be URI graduate who majors in English and minors in communication studies and leadership. “My Big Sister (mentor) in my sorority and I both turned down the same college to come to URI. We never have regretted it.”

Damon-Leduc found another connection at URI. The Phi Sigma Sigma sorority’s official philanthropy, National Kidney Foundation, hosts the U.S. Transplant Games. Her grandfather, Wesley Wellington Damon Jr., whom Valerie felt very close to, died of kidney failure when she was 14. She was one of four URI students who attended the 2008 games in Pittsburgh, Pa. and the 2010 games in Madison, Wisc. “Our sorority had 100 volunteers,” she says proudly.

Damon-Leduc was this year’s winner of the A. Robert Rainville Student Employee Leadership award. Working as an event management consultant in the Student Programming Office for three semesters, she consulted for nearly 100 events. This month, for example, she is helping fraternities and sororities execute more than 20 events during Greek Week.

She improved the effectiveness of the office by creating a training program for new employees to help with transitions, something the office never had before.

“I learned to apply my training to practical situations and take the theories I learned about working with groups into the real world. I have had to speak publicly on various occasions, and teach students tips to make their organizations better. As an advisor, I have had to learn to trust my instincts and to know that I can make good judgment calls, not only for myself, but others. I have also been transformed from a shy, slightly insecure individual to someone who can confidently call or approach the people I need to talk to, or stand my ground when necessary,” Damon-Leduc wrote in her application for the competitive Rainville award.

No doubt, she’ll draw upon those skills when she crosses the staged platform and takes the microphone during the commencement exercises.

She enjoys event planning so much, she plans to explore job opportunities in that field when she graduates. Her future goal is to attend graduate school and go into human resources.

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.