A group of College of St. Joseph graduates is planning events for the first weekend in May, just two weeks before what’s expected to be the school’s final commencement ceremony.

“We want to reminisce and make some last memories,” said alumna Kelly O’Reilly, part of a group of alumni who will gather in Rutland the weekend of May 3.

In March, Jennifer Scott, president of College of St. Joseph, announced the college would close at the end of the current semester. Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington will also close around the same time.

All three colleges were facing financial difficulties. The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) told CSJ and Southern Vermont College they would lose their accreditation if they were not able to demonstrate financial stability. After 60 years of educating students, CSJ’s final commencement is scheduled for the weekend of May 17.

Before that, a group of alumni will meet May 3 at the Draught Room for dinner, on the morning of May 4 on the CSJ campus for a walkthrough, at the Tap House that night, and on Sunday for brunch at the Holiday Inn.

O’Reilly, who majored in special education and elementary education with a minor in psychology, said she’s one of a “core group” of alumni who have kept in touch after leaving the small, independent college.

“I’ll be completely honest with you, it kind of grew. Originally, it was a core group of alums. We started off as (the group who) lived in the same suite in CSJ all four years. So it started out as the six or seven of us saying, ‘You know, we should really get together,’ and then it was like, ‘Well, other people are going to want to say goodbye, too,’ and then they were like, ‘We know other people. ...’ So it started off very small and it just grew from what was going to be a really small event to a larger event than I think any of us anticipated,” she said.

One of the participants has an unusually strong relationship with CSJ. Gregory Chamberland, who graduated in 1999, is now the college registrar. Originally from Proctor, Chamberland has been working at the college for 20 years, ever since he graduated.

O’Reilly said she has only been back in the Rutland area a few times since she graduated. Chamberland said there is an annual alumni gathering, usually in the fall.

This time is different, he acknowledged.

“This event will be a time for all the alumni to get together, reminisce about the past, mourn, celebrate and, hopefully, maintain our community and friendships,” he said.

O’Reilly said CSJ was meaningful to her because of the small classes and the relationships she made with professors and friends. She said she now reads to her own 7-year-old daughter and first-grade students stories she heard while in education classes at CSJ.

“It’s hard to hear that CSJ is closing, and it’s hard to hear that other high school seniors won’t get to have that opportunity to experience CSJ like I did,” she said.

Chamberland said CSJ will “always hold a special place in the hearts” of students who attended and, especially, those who graduated from the college.

“For many, it’s like a second home. I even hear that today when students are walking down the hall. It’s like this second home, so it’s going to be really tough for our current students, not necessarily finding another school to go to, but the fact that they’re losing a second family, in a sense,” he said. After getting confirmation from about 40 people who said they would attend, O’Reilly said she’s expecting about 60 to 80 people on the weekend of May 3.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Scott, but Chamberland shared his thoughts about what will be lost when CSJ has closed its doors.

“CSJ is a celebration of our academics, of our friendships that we made, and the hope that the spirit of CSJ will live on,” he said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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