Alumni through the decades

By Leighah Beausoleil

Editorial Staff 

[Editor’s Note: This will be a continuing series of features, extending beyond this one.]

Diane Finch entered the all-women State College at Framingham in 1962. During her four years at what is now Framingham State University, the Vietnam War raged, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and students started protesting what seemed to be an endless war.

Eight years later, Susan Conway graduated with Christa Corrigan McAuliffe in 1970, the year students at Kent State were shot at and killed while protesting the Vietnam War.

And, 16 years later, McAuliffe was chosen in a nation-wide contest out of thousands of applicants for the opportunity to be the first teacher in space. People across the country watched as she died when the Challenger shuttle exploded on national television.

Another 15 years later, Ryan Renauld was awakened in his dorm in Corinne Hall Towers with news that two planes that had left Boston Logan International Airport crashed into the twin towers in New York killing thousands of people. Seventeen of those who lost their lives had ties to Framingham, according to an article by the Metrowest Daily News. 

Nineteen years later, in 2020, Matty Bennet graduated from Framingham State University in a virtual ceremony from his home. A global pandemic has closed schools, restaurants, businesses, and houses of worship across the country. The pandemic has killed over 9,000 people in Massachusetts alone, according to the New York Times as of Sept. 14, 2020. 

Diane Finch exited the co-ed State College at Framingham in 1966. During her four years, the country was changing and people were dying, but the love and appreciation she holds for those four years remains unwavering.

The University has been the home away from home for thousands of students for many years. Its size has allowed for close relationships to form between students and faculty – ensuring lifelong friends and everlasting memories. 

The cost of the University has allowed for students of all different economic backgrounds to come together. Starting out as an all-women school with little to no ethnic diversity, the University has come a long way. 

Seven alumni throughout the decades share their experiences at Framingham State as it changed and grew to become the University it is known as today. Despite being a small state school, it lives on largely in people’s memories as having been the best years of their lives. 

Diane Finch ’66 – The 1960s

Diane Finch began her time at State College at Framingham in 1962 when the college was still all women. But this was not much of a change for Finch who came from an all-girls high school. One of five sisters, Finch was a first-generation student studying elementary education with a minor in Early American History. 

In an attempt to “get away,” Finch said she chose Framingham because of its distance from her hometown as well as for the size of the school. She graduated high school with a class of 36 students, so to her, the 300-student graduating classes at Framingham were quite large. 

She also enjoyed meeting people from all different areas of Massachusetts as well as from out of state. “And I just liked the feel of it,” she said. “It was a great, great pick for me.”

Finch stayed on campus in Pierce Hall where the women lived in single rooms. “Almost like cells,” Finch said. “I was on the third floor overlooking the dining hall roof, but I liked it because it had the tunnels. At that time, we could use the tunnels to go over to our classes.”

Finch then spent her remaining three years in O’Connor Hall. The hall was used as a dorm until 2016 when it was repurposed as an office building, according to an article by The Gatepost.

At the time, the dining hall was sit-down dining, so the students were served by waitstaff. 

She described the students being close with their professors. “Many of the professors … would go down to O’Connor Hall, where they had the cafeteria, and would have their lunch,” she said. “We went down – we lived there – so we would sit with them and talk with them.

“Every Wednesday night, it was a formal dining, and a lot of the faculty members would come and eat with us,” she added. “Dr. [Justin] McCarthy and his wife always came on Wednesday nights.”

D. Justin McCarthy was appointed the college’s president in 1961, according to the Framingham State website.

Finch said, “It was small, so it was a very, very intimate campus, and the professors were all very available to us.”

During her time at Framingham, Finch was involved on campus. 

“My very first year Ted Kennedy was running his first senatorial race,” Finch said. “I was the chairperson on campus for the Ted Kennedy race, so that started to sort of kick me off as a freshman.”

She explained how after he won, he came back to campus and acknowledged the work she had done. 

Finch was also an active member in the Intercultural Relations Club. In her sophomore year, the club went to New York for the United Nations General Assembly where they represented Iceland. 

She explained how Japan, represented by Yale, and England, represented by Harvard, were the two big countries they were negotiating with at the time.

“It was unbelievable,” she said recalling her experience. “Remember, those were all male schools at that time.”

Finch was also associate editor of The Gatepost her junior year and editor-in-chief the following year. She went to the University of Minnesota for a three-week conference her junior year with the president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and others. 

The newspaper was produced differently during the time. Instead of weekly issues, there were a total of four. During her senior year, the paper went from four to six issues, with a special issue in February for Religious Emphasis Week.

The newspaper was in O’Conner Hall as opposed to its current office in the McCarthy Center. 

“It wasn’t all computerized, so we had to set the galleys up,” Finch said. “I would have to drive them into Brookline to The Jewish Times, and they ran the newspaper for us and delivered them.”

She added, “It went from writing, to laying out the galleys, to bringing it to the printer, writing it off – it was a very different experience.” 

Finch recalled the joy campus events brought such as May Day. 

“The sophomore class took over the campus,” she said. “It was always a surprise. People would wake up that first Friday in May and it went for the weekend.” 

“I used to love going down singing at the town square downtown,” Finch added. “At Christmas time, we would sing as a choir down there, and they would go for hot chocolate and cookies. The town would all come out. 

“That was a very special time,” she said.  

Finch described finding her own identity as the most memorable thing to happen to her during her time at the college. 

“It’s just the development of a whole person by self identity,” she said. “I think it really grounded me, and rooted me, into who I was.

“Framingham certainly catapulted me in terms of my career as an educator,” she added. “I think that the notion of really defining myself occurred at Framingham. … But the platform as a woman, and as one that could stand up for herself, and think for herself, could advocate for herself, and could move into different circles.” 

Finch said, “It opened my world.

“It gave me a much larger worldview, even at that time,” she said. “I remember Kennedy was assassinated my sophomore year. We had all the trouble about Vietnam. … We were right in the mix of things.”

Finch brought up the alumni song.

“As time goes on, and chains are connected and the chains will not be severed until we go – until we leave this world – and I feel that way,” Finch said. “I feel like my chain is still part of Framingham, and it will never sever. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful song that we have.”

Susan Conway ’70 – The 1970s

Susan Conway began her time at the State College at Framingham in 1966 studying Elementary Education. 

The college was renamed Framingham State College (FSC) in 1968, according to the Framingham State website.

“Well, long story short, my sister had gone to a private college, and it was so expensive that I had to go to a state college,” Conway said. “But after I saw the campus, I fell in love with it. There was no sadness in choosing. It was the best place ever.”

As a resident, she stayed in O’Connor Hall her freshman year, followed by Peirce Hall her sophomore year, and Larned Hall her junior and senior years. 

Conway explained how restrictive the dorms were at the time. 

“My husband is also a graduate of the class of ’70, and he found his old handbook,” she said. “And I’m looking at the rules, and I’m laughing hysterically as I’m reading to my husband because we had such tight curfews in the very beginning freshman/sophomore year. We had to have permission for everything.

“During the week, we had to be in the dorm as freshmen by eight o’clock at night, and the physical science professor assigned assignments to go out and study the stars,” Conway said. “We had to get special permission to leave the dorm to go do an assignment.

“Our freshman year, my parents had to sign a letter saying whose car I could ride in – what person I could go with,” she added. “I had to get special permission if I left and spent the night out at a friend’s house. 

“It was like going to Catholic school,” she said.

She explained that by her senior year the rules were lifted and it was “free and easy.”

Conway was also involved on campus as the secretary of Newman Club. She and her roommate also did Campus News Notes. She explained that every week, the professors would put notes in an envelope, and every weekend they would collect them and create a newsletter of all the upcoming campus events. They would then deliver these newsletters throughout the campus. 

Conway recalled the May Day activities that went on during her time at Framingham. She discussed how all the women had to wear the same dress. She said every year each class would put on a comedy show and they would perform in front of the whole campus. The campus would then vote on a winner.

“Our class had the distinction of never having won a set night performance,” Conway said jokingly. 

The State College at Framingham, after 125 years of being an all-women school, finally became co-ed in 1964, according to the Framingham State website. 

Conway said there were maybe 30 men in her graduating class and approximately 72 men total on campus during her time there. 

She said the most memorable events for her during her time at Framingham were Kent State, the Vietnam War, and protesting. All of their exams were canceled her senior year because of Kent State. 

In 1970, four students were killed and nine others were injured when the National Guard opened fire on a protest against the Vietnam War at Kent State University, according to an article on History.com.

“And then my class was also the Christa McAuliffe class,” she added. “The Challenger explosion had been a big part of our class.”

Christa Corrigan McAuliffe graduated from Framingham State College in 1970. As a teacher, she was selected by NASA to take part in the Challenger shuttle mission in 1986 which tragically exploded, according to the Framingham website. 

Conway described her four years at Framingham as the best years of her life. She continues to volunteer for the Independent Alumni Association with her husband. She just recently celebrated 50 years of friendship with her college friends by going on a trip to Italy. 

Kelly Sardella ’82 – The 1980s

Kelly Sardella began her time at Framingham State College (FSC) in 1978 where she studied Geography with a concentration in Urban Planning and Environmental Management. 

After graduating, she had a hard time finding a job and wound up in sales. She then took time off to raise children, but she returned to FSC for her teaching certification as well as her master’s in language literacy. 

She is also currently a member of the Alumni Board. 

Sardella has two older sisters who became secretaries, but choosing a different path, she attended FSC because she wanted to become a journalist. 

“My mother was a little bit old fashioned, and asked, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to be a secretary?’ Sardella said, “I’m here because I want to be a journalist. And so they felt safe with me going someplace close to home.”

Sardella wanted to live on campus, but due to financial reasons decided to commute. She explained how she had friends who did live on campus, so whenever she needed or wanted to stay over she was able to stay with them. 

She also was involved in clubs and events on campus. “So, even though I commuted home a lot of late nights,” she said. “I very much had a full college experience, I feel.”

She explained because of her involvement on campus, she had both friends who were and weren’t commuters. The problem with this, she said, was there were separate dining commons for commuters and for residents. 

Sardella was involved in the Geography Club as well as an associate editor for The Gatepost for three years. 

She said with the Geography Club she was able to go on a trip to the Dominican Republic her senior year.

Through the club, Sardella said she was able to meet people from diverse backgrounds. 

“At the time the school was not very ethnically diverse, but economically, it was very diverse,” she said. “It was a nice way to see people who are different than you were, and who had a lot of struggles in life.” 

She explained the club was not only great for meeting people from diverse backgrounds, but also for getting to know her professors. She was able to see they were approachable and easy to talk to no matter where they were on campus. 

During her time at FSC, the drinking age was 18, so she was part of a group who put a pub in place on campus. This pub was a popular spot for all of the students to hang out. 

But where students congregate – noise is born, and the neighbors abutting the college complained a lot. Along with that, and the change of the drinking age back to 21, the pub was no more.

Sardella explained another big event on campus was, “Three o’clock in the afternoon – General Hospital.” She said everyone would gather every day as much as possible to watch the show.

The classroom setting, she explained, was strictly lecture based with rarely any small group activities. She said she wrote a lot of papers on her typewriter, and most of her work was done independently. 

“I had to take a summer class – I got mono one semester – so, I had to make up a summer class,” Sardella said. “And I remember staying up late at night typing on my electric typewriter to get it in the next morning for my final paper, and putting in the little piece of white paper. I don’t know if you know about that, that you had to tap it in to correct errors and it never lined up right.”

Sardella explained the most memorable thing about her time at FSC was the friendships she was able to make. At FSC, Sardella met her best friend who passed away from cystic fibrosis. 

She remains to have a group of best friends that she spends time with who were all also Framingham State graduates.“What you really take away are those lifelong friendships,” she said. 

Reflecting on her time at FSC, Sardella said,“I just think that it was the first time in my life I got out into a much larger, more diverse population. And I think things like that really change your life.”

She added, “I think when you get out into a world like that, and you see what’s really going on, it really opens up your eyes, and I think it makes you become a more empathetic person. 

“I think that’s great for all of us, and I think that’s great for the world, and the decisions that we make as we go forward. As we hold that history with us.”

Kim Pita ’90 – The 1990s

Kim Pita began her time at Framingham State College (FSC) in 1986 when she studied media communications and journalism. 

Having grown up in Connecticut, Pita wanted to go to school somewhere not too far and not too close. Due to financial reasons, she couldn’t go to any of the bigger schools for media communications and TV, so she ended up picking Framingham State. 

“I’m one of those people that truly believes that college is what you make of it,” Pita said. “No matter where you go, no matter what you choose, it really is about how you take advantage of the experiences that are available at that particular school. So, I got really actively involved with Framingham, and I loved it.”

Pita lived on campus in Larned Hall for her first two years. She then got an apartment off campus with three other women for the remaining years. 

Pita explained the pub was still popular during her time on campus, but because the drinking age was 21, it was usually only seniors. 

She said, “We couldn’t wait till we could get into the pub, and it was where everybody kind of hung out on Thursday nights in particular – it was a big night.”

She recalled her senior year having an 8 a.m. class at the planetarium, and the struggle of paying attention in the class where she had to sit in a dark room after a late Thursday night.

Pita was a member of The Gatepost during her time at FSC. She recalls staying up until two or three in the morning trying to get the paper out. 

“I am an insomniac, so I would stay up super late and study, and that’s why The Gatepost worked for me because I hardly sleep anyway,” she said. 

“Back then we actually had to do paste up,” Pita added. “So, we actually had to print the articles out, and then paste them up onto the boards. We didn’t have digital like it is today.

“I loved it,” she said. “I’m a writer. I wrote a book recently, and I truly believe that what I learned in college, and what I learned by doing The Gatepost readied me for my career.”

Pita’s book is titled, “Split Endz: A Tale of 2 Crazy Sisters: A Memoir.”According to the book’s summary, it tells the story of Pita and her sister Kelly who was injured in a near-fatal car accident and ultimately lost her life in a drug overdose. The book then follows Pita’s blogging of Kelly’s mental illness journey discovered through the journals she left behind. 

In terms of technology, Pita felt Framingham State was quite advanced for a state school. Studying TV, she felt all her classes had up-to-date equipment that they needed. She explained even though she started at The Gatepost doing paste up, they soon received Apple computers that streamlined the process.

She said going to FSC instead of a much bigger school gave her the opportunity to get more hands-on experience with the equipment involved in TV production. She said had she gone to a different school she might not have been able to even touch the equipment until her junior or senior year.

Pita recalled one of her favorite classes being her psychology class. The class went to a prison where they were able to interview those who were serving life sentences and hear their stories. 

“It profoundly changed me, and really taught me a lot about humans,” she said.

Pita was also a senator on SGA. She remembers looking up to the president of SGA at the time and how passionate and motivated he was. 

The SGA president at the time also taught the students to protest, and some of the students from FSC had been a part of a large protest at the Boston Statehouse for the right to affordable education.

Pita said being a part of that movement was exciting and it was like “creating little advocates.”

“I loved being part of [SGA] because you got to be part of the decision making,” she said. 

“One of the things I really loved about Framingham was they really look to the students for their opinions,” Pita said. “I think that’s so important in college. To make sure that administration has a pulse on what’s happening, and how the students feel, and how this will affect their lives. That’s why I liked being part of SGA, because I got to be part of those decisions that were critical to us as students back then.”

Ryan Renauld ’02 – The 2000s

Ryan Renauld entered Framingham State College (FSC) in 1997 and originally studied secondary education with math, but switched to just math.

He explained the reasoning behind this was because he and other students had problems with a professor. 

Renauld said the professor had “refused to give me a bare minimum B-, even though everything I got was an A and B+ for my final average. She didn’t think I was cut out to be a teacher. So, that’s where the fifth year came into play. 

“I pretty much told the professor that I’ll just change my major to math, pass the teaching test, and then get my teaching certificate afterwards. And there were a few students that were planning to do the same thing because of that one professor,” he said.

Renauld said when choosing a school he was between Framingham and another college, but he said when he really thought about who he was as a person, Framingham State was the right choice. 

“I didn’t want to go to a school and be a number,” he said. “I wanted to feel like I was part of the school campus culture. I basically picked Framingham because I felt at home there. Just taking the tour, I could picture myself living there.”

Renauld lived on campus for all five years and stayed in Corinne Hall Towers. He said he had a “blast” living there and was able to meet a lot of great people who he is still friends with to this day. 

Renauld decided against playing soccer, which he now coaches at the high school where he currently teaches, or joining any clubs during his time at FSC. He explained he wanted to see what college life was without the pressures of playing on a sports team, and said he didn’t join his sophomore year because he was “enjoying college life too much.”

He said he did often participate in campus events. He discussed how they used to hold a lot of their events at the pub. One of which was a dating game show. 

“A few of my friends had signed up for the dating game and kind of chickened out at the last moment, so me being the wise guy that I am, started heckling the people that were too afraid to get up there,” Renauld said. “So, in doing that, they coerced me to get up on stage, so I was part of the dating game show.”

Renauld said his freshman year he was known as Elvis. He explained that a hypnotist had come to school and put on an event.

“I got up on stage and got hypnotized in front of the student body that was there. I don’t remember any of the show, except for what people were telling me, and apparently I was singing Elvis songs to senior cheerleaders, and jumping off stage, and doing all sorts of other craziness.”

Renauld described the classroom set up at the time. He explained that there weren’t any tables and a lot of group work, but that the desks were lined up in rows. He said to do their group work they would have to slide the desks together. He added that the biggest adjustment for him were the science classes that took place in lecture halls that had anywhere from 50 to 60 students. 

Renauld also described the difficulty in having a class where they used computers and having no room for a notebook to take notes because the computers were so large. 

During his time at FSC, the college started its wireless-laptop initiative. He explained how depending on the course, a student would get a laptop that they could use; they just had to return it by the end of the semester. 

Renauld recalled his favorite course being a sociology class he took. It was an 8 a.m. class and he said, “I thoroughly enjoyed getting up that early to go to that class. … Me and my friend Jen – we both took the class – would routinely head to his office for office hours just to continue conversations with him.”

At the beginning of his graduation year, 9/11 stunned the campus. 

“I think we spent most of that year, kind of, in shock with it,” he said. “I still remember being woken up from my friend down the hall who was actually in the Air Force reserves. So, he was banging on the door to wake me up in the morning, pretty much saying that we’re being attacked.”

He added, “I do recall the eeriest thing for me and my friends that were living in the dorm was the fact that we lived in a tower, and it was just kind of weird walking in and out of that structure for that day, that week, that month.”

Renauld explained that the event didn’t really change life on campus, and he felt the college did a good job making the students feel safe. He said the college had multiple events on campus for the sole purpose of remembering the victims of 9/11. 

Renauld said he enjoyed his time at FSC. 

“When given the opportunity with players that I’ve coached that are interested in the school, I generally will drive them up there and give them my own little personal tour of the campus,” he added. “I encourage people to go there and experience it.”

Sara Mulkeen ’10 – The 2010s

Sara Mulkeen began at Framingham State College (FSC) in 2006, and studied English with a concentration in journalism. Her class was the first to graduate from the newly-named Framingham State University.

Mulkeen said she never intended to go to college. Having gone to an academically competitive, all-girls Catholic high school, she felt she wasn’t succeeding academically. She planned to just go to cosmetology school and become a hairdresser, but she and her mom toured Framingham State and they both loved the “homey” feel of the school. 

Her parents then sent in her Framingham State application without her knowledge. 

“They had a feeling that I would want to go to college as soon as I saw my friends going off in the fall, and they were right,” she said. “I went with very few expectations of how I would enjoy my time there, and it turned out to be the best experience.”

Mulkeen stayed on campus as a resident for her first three years, and then had an apartment off campus for her senior year.

Her freshman year, she stayed in O’Connor Hall which was an all-women dorm at the time. “And the funny part about that is that my exact freshman year dorm room is now my office,” she said.

Mulkeen is currently the manager of Digital Communications and Interactive Media at Framingham State, according to the Framingham State website.

She then stayed in Corinne Hall Towers for her sophomore and junior years. 

Mulkeen played softball while at FSC. She described her time on the team as one of the “defining experiences” of her college career. She was able to be a part of the division-winning championship team her freshman year. By her junior year, she decided to focus on her internship and stopped playing. 

Mulkeen was also a member of The Gatepost. She explained how The Gatepost was a way to push herself out of her comfort zone. She said she wasn’t very good at academics and when taking Professor Desmond McCarthy’s News Writing course, he had pulled her aside and told her she was good at journalism. 

“And it was kind of the first time someone had said, ‘You’re really good at this academic thing,’” she said. 

She said The Gatepost motivated her academically and gave her confidence in her career path. 

Mulkeen said the most memorable part of her FSC experience was getting an internship at the MetroWest Daily News. She explained it really solidified that she wanted to work in journalism and seeing real journalists work inspired her. 

Reflecting on her time at FSC she said, “I would just say that it was kind of all by chance that I ended up there, but definitely was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Mulkeen explained how the relationships students make with one another and their faculty still remain even years after they’ve graduated. She said even now she hears about how close students are with their faculty mentors.

“Another thing that really kind of drove home for me that Framingham State is a quality education, was my first job out of college,” she said. “I was sitting next to a woman who had just graduated from Columbia University’s journalism school, and we’re both in the same job, the same amount of funding, so it just goes to show that the name on your degree doesn’t define what you do. It’s what you do while you’re in college to get to your career.”

Matty Bennet ’20 – The 2020s

Matty Bennet started at FSU in 2016 and studied political science with a minor in sociology.

Bennet originally started out as a sociology major because he had taken a class in high school and enjoyed it. Out of fear of not being able to find a job after college, Bennet thought he should switch to business management, but his parents told him he should do what he loves. 

After taking an Introduction to American Government class, he decided to switch to political science. He had grown up seeing his parents civically engaged and he watched the news with them every night. He said doing that shaped his opinions and world view, preparing him for the class. 

Bennet planned to commute to school, so as a Natick resident, he had been looking at colleges close to home such as Framingham State. He ended up choosing FSU after receiving a merit-based scholarship. 

As a commuter, Bennet said his experience was “not bad at all.” He only lived about a 15-to-20 minute drive from campus, and expressed how much he loved how small and close knit the community was. “You would never know that Route 9 was right there by standing in front of May Hall,” he said.

Bennet spent a lot of his time involved in on-campus activities. In his freshman and sophomore years, he was part of Pride Alliance and did programming work for the Center of Inclusive Excellence. 

He was also a Rams 101 Peer Mentor the first year it launched. In his junior year, he got involved with SGA – he became the president his senior year. 

Bennet said his most memorable moment at FSU was getting sworn in as SGA president. 

“I helped to change – with a great group of people – the narrative of who SGA is,” Bennet said. “I think that I’ve done a really good job this year about switching our focus from saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to clubs when it comes to funding to focus more on student initiatives and student concerns.”

Bennet explained holding a position in SGA, such as president, is about learning as you go. He cited COVID-19 as an example, explaining how he had to figure things out and make tough decisions as he went along. 

He recalled how in 2016, after Donald Trump won the presidency, “There was a group of students that organized a very grassroots movement.” 

He explained the movement was led by students and supported by faculty. “I would say probably about 100 students walked around campus, talking about how we condemned hatred and we were very hopeful for the future – and how Framingham State can be a sanctuary. A lot of people got up and were able to speak, and I was actually one of them.”

One of Bennet’s favorite courses he had taken at FSU was a Public Policy Analysis course. He ended up writing a 40-page policy review of “transgender public accommodations and legal remedies” which won a departmental award. Bennet said it was one of the best pieces of writing he’s ever produced. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennet, along with many other seniors, finished his final year from home through online classes. 

Bennet explained it was sad he didn’t experience all of the traditional events that take place for seniors, and how the end-of-year events for SGA and other clubs were also canceled. 

“Realizing that I’m not going to see people and say goodbye for the last time – that’s very sad,” he said. “But, I’m trying to focus on the positive.”

He and others formed a group to try and plan virtual events for their class, as well as events that can take place for them when the pandemic has passed. 

“I’m very lucky,” Bennet said. “I am very happy that I found Framingham State. It seems very cliché – it’s only four years of your life.

“It’ll be four years I’ll always remember, and it was very transformative for me,” he added. “I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve grown a lot of my skills. And I think that it is a school that has so much to offer.”

Bennet is now employed as an admissions counselor at Southern New Hampshire University.