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  June 7, 2004

Rowe Urges Graduates To Be Open To Change

Undergraduate Ceremony
Expect the unexpected, embrace opportunities, and find some balance, Dr. John Rowe urged this year's graduates.

Commencement 2004 Slideshow

Image: sksk

Board chairman Dr. John Rowe gives the Commencement address to undergraduates and their families at Gampel Pavilion May 9
Photo by Peter Morenus

Rowe, chairman and chief executive officer of Aetna Inc. and chair of the University's Board of Trustees, was the speaker during twin undergraduate Commencement ceremonies May 9 at Gampel Pavilion.

Rowe, a noted gerontologist, and former

professor of medicine and founding director of the Division on Aging at Harvard Medical School, drew his advice from his own career.

"Careers are unpredictable," he said. "When I got my degree, I was absolutely certain I was going to practice medicine. I never practiced medicine. Many of you think you know what you're going to do, but you're wrong.

"Be open to change," he said. "Opportunism is not a four-letter word. It's a very important part of success."

Rowe also urged graduates to be resilient. "That's the thing that separates winners from losers," he said. "Something bad is going to happen to you. You'll be fired or get sick. ... Winners get back up."

His third piece of advice was to "find some balance."

As a new faculty member of Harvard Medical School doing basic research, he said, he worked around the clock and regarded vacations as a sign of weakness. But his wife bought him a sailboat and encouraged him to take some time off.

"An interesting thing happened," he said. "My science got better."

More than 3,000 students received their degrees during the morning and afternoon ceremonies. In addition, writer and illustrator David Macaulay, author of The Way Things Work, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree; and Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University and former executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Also during the ceremonies, Provost John D. Petersen presented this year's Teaching Fellows: Daniel Civco, professor of natural resources management & engineering, and Del Siegle, an associate professor of educational psychology.

And Peter McFadden, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, received the University Medal.

Graduate School
Speaking during the graduate ceremony on May 8, Gene E. Likens, an internationally renowned environmentalist, urged about 1,350 master's and doctoral degree candidates to protect and sustain basic life support systems as the highest priority. "Don't accept decisions from politically powerful, multi-national corporations, or any other decisions that exploit nature and degrade these life support systems for the short-term economic gain of a few," he said.

Likens, who received an honorary Doctor of Science degree during the ceremony, is director of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. An expert in the study of forest, stream, and lake ecosystems, he received the National Medal of Science in 2002.

"Environmental degradation is not inevitable," he told the graduates, "it is simply cheaper and easier for some in the short term. Environmental health is not inconsistent with economic imperatives and political realities. Individuals can make a difference, even in today's complex world."

Likens said that the planet's "more than 6.3 billion humans, increasing at about 80 million each year, coupled with our increasing and seemingly insatiable demand for natural resources, clearly have their collective foot on the accelerator.

"We humans — have a choice about how, or whether, we exploit our finite life support systems on this planet. Will we make the right choices so that these resources are used sustainably?" he asked.

Likens said that today's world-wide assault on the environment is "unprecedented in scale, intensity, and variety." He urged graduates to live their lives "as if any assault on environmental quality were pollution being dumped in your backyard, because that is precisely what it is."

During the ceremony, Iognáid G. Ó Muircheartaigh (pronounced Ognard O-mer-ca-tee), president of the National University of Ireland, also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree. A statistician, he was instrumental in establishing a center for human rights at the University of Ireland.

And Provost John D. Petersen presented this year's Research Fellows: Yung-Sze Choi, professor of mathematics; Carol Lammi-Keefe, professor of nutritional sciences; James Rusling, professor of chemistry; and Montgomery Shaw, professor of chemical engineering.

Health Center
Francisco JimŽnez, the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and director of ethnic studies at Santa Clara University in California, was the Health Center's graduation speaker May 16.

JimŽnez praised the students who provide volunteer medical and dental care to Connecticut's tobacco and fruit pickers. "The strength of your commitment to the underserved is inspiring," he said.

JimŽnez is the son of Mexican farm workers. Born on the outskirts of Guadalajara, at age four he crossed the border into California, where he and his family worked in the fields.

Their life was toilsome, he said, and its aftereffects linger on. They worked under the burning sun, which left them vulnerable to skin cancers. They were exposed to farm chemicals and pesticides, which are also closely associated with cancers and illnesses. Constant stooping to pick vegetables and fruit left them with aching backs and ruined posture. And there was no medical care.

"It is because of the work you've done as students providing medical care to migrants that I find myself full of hope," said JimŽnez, who has written two autobiographical works recounting his family's migration from farm to farm as laborers, and the struggle to continue his education while coping with poverty.

Graduation is the start of a larger commitment, he said: "We have an obligation to work to assure access to the highest level of medical care and to eliminate barriers to that care."

The Health Center Commencement featured graduates of the medical and dental schools, the master of public health program, and the doctoral program in the bio-sciences. Sixty-eight received their M.D. degree; 34 their D.M.D. degree; 24 their master's of public health degree; and 19 their doctorate.

School of Law
American Bar Association President Dennis Archer told graduating law students that their law degree is the beginning of "a life of great purpose," and urged them to commit themselves to fulfilling their role as public servants.

"I believe that lawyering is a calling - a calling to serve the public," Archer said. "Many of you decided to enter this profession because you wanted to help people, you want to serve justice, and you have been called."

The School of Law awarded 174 Juris Doctor degrees and 15 Master of Laws degrees May 23. Archer received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Citing the 50th anniversary - celebrated the previous week - of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that schools segregated on the basis of race were unconstitutional, Archer credited "hardworking lawyers" for challenging injustice in the public school system and opening a new chapter in American history.

"The decision (Brown v. Board) not only opened doors and provided opportunity, but also laid the foundation for the 1960's Civil Rights Movement," said Archer, the first African- American elected as president of the ABA in the organization's 125-year history. "It was a revolutionary moment in American jurisprudence that continues to affect our lives today.

"Lawyers have a long history of challenging the status quo and making society better," said Archer, listing an array of American lawyers who made great contributions. They ranged from Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence; John Adams who ensured the Bill of Rights was included in the U.S. Constitution; and Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery; to John Foster Dulles and William Fulbright, who left their imprint on U.S. foreign affairs and international exchange.

Archer said that lawyers also have power to heal the wounds of injustice. He noted that all attorneys take an oath that obliges them to serve the poor and defenseless.

"If we re-orient our thinking to take advantage of the power of healing," he said, "we can be counselors, advisors, problem-solver, and even peacemakers."