Tie What You Do to What You Dream

At the last Commencement for President Lawrence S. Bacow, speaker Charles M. Vest charged the Class of 2011 to tackle the challenges that lie ahead
Students at Commencement 2011
At commencement, students sing along to “Tuftonia’s Day.” Tufts awarded undergraduate and graduate degrees to 3,377 students on May 22. Photo: Kelvin Ma
May 22, 2011


Tufts’ Class of 2011 goes into the world to face greater challenges than those that greeted previous generations, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president emeritus Charles M. Vest said during his May 22 commencement address.

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“Your challenges are greater because they are huge; they are complex; and they are global,” Vest said. He instructed the newly minted graduates to “use your best talents and intentions to build a healthier, more just and equitable world.”

And, he added: “Tufts has prepared you to do this.”

Vest’s words came during the all-university commencement ceremony, a traditional ritual on the Academic Quad that, this year, was marked by both the joy and excitement of new beginnings, and the poignancy of expected, but difficult, endings.

This marked the final commencement ceremony for President Lawrence S. Bacow, who is stepping down on Aug. 1 after 10 years of leading Tufts, and the respect and affection between Bacow and the university community was evident throughout the morning.

Both Vest, in his keynote address, and James A. Stern, E72, chair of the Board of Trustees, paid tribute to Bacow’s nationwide reputation as a leader in higher education. Bacow is “perhaps the most respected university president in the country,” Vest said.

“No single individual in Tufts history has had a greater or more positive impact on Tufts than Larry Bacow,” said James A. Stern, E72, chair of the Board of Trustees. Photo: Alonso Nichols“He has a rigorous mind and a warm heart,” Stern said. “His personal ethics are matchless.” Stern praised Bacow’s efforts to attract, recruit and retain the very best students and faculty to the university, and his “passionate commitment to making a Tufts education more accessible than ever before.”

Stern invited Bacow’s wife, Adele Fleet Bacow, to join him on the podium, to the delight of the audience. For the past decade, Adele Bacow has maintained a visible and active presence on the Tufts campus—an “indispensible partner in Larry’s presidency,” as Stern described her.

Stern also announced that the new sailing pavilion will be named in honor of the Bacows, and that President Bacow will be named President Emeritus after he steps down this summer.

“No single individual in Tufts history has had a greater or more positive impact on Tufts than Larry Bacow,” Stern said.

For his part, Bacow thanked the university community for its support. “These have been 10 of the very best years of our lives,” he said. Adele Bacow offered a special thanks to the students, “who have inspired us in so many ways,” she said.

And, after offering words of encouragement and congratulations to the graduates, Bacow ended his speech on a clearly emotional note, as the Class of ’11 broke into a chant that has been heard on the campus many times over the past decade: “Larry! Larry! Larry!”

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The rain that had bedeviled the Boston area for much of the past week spared the commencement exercises, and, although it was a chilly morning for mid-May, Bacow welcomed the graduates and their guests with his traditional greeting. “Commencement is always a beautiful day,” he said. “Sometimes we happen to have good weather.”

The university awarded a total of 1,536 undergraduate degrees and 1,841 graduate degrees.

The featured commencement speaker, Vest, is president of the National Academy of Engineering. He is an author and has led or served on many high-level governmental advisory committees, including the Commission of the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He was also a speaker at Bacow’s inauguration in 2001. (Bacow spent much of his career at MIT before arriving at Tufts.)

Vest began his talk by noting the achievements of Tufts alumnus Vannevar Bush, E1913, AG1913, H32. Bush, who was also an engineering dean and vice president at MIT, prepared a report for Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 titled Science: The Endless Frontier. “This report established our universities as the primary American institutions to conduct basic research,” Vest said.

“Your challenges are greater because they are huge, they are complex and they are global,” Charles Vest told the graduates. Photo: Alonso Nichols“It also held that America would be strongest if young men and women gained admission to these universities ‘on the basis of ability, and not the circumstances of family fortune,’ ” Vest said. “Every one of you has directly benefited from this visionary man, your fellow Tufts graduate. That’s what Bush did with his Tufts education.

“So, what are you going to do with your Tufts education?” Vest asked.

Proclaiming that the challenges of today surpass those of the past century, Vest urged the graduates to use the new tools at their disposal to work together “to solve important problems and build a more inclusive, engaged and more egalitarian society.

“Technology cannot make 9 billion lives more meaningful or joyful,” he warned. “All the technologies and networks we can create will not solve our world problems if we do not establish a base of human and cultural understanding, ethical and moral underpinnings and sensible rules of law for the 21st century.”

This commencement also marked the departure of Jamshed Bharucha, Tufts’ provost and senior vice president since 2002, who will become president of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The university also bestowed Dean Emeritus status on Lonnie H. Norris, DG80, who is retiring in August after serving as dean of the School of Dental Medicine since 1996.

The university bestowed honorary degrees on seven recipients. In addition to Vest, the recipients were: Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone; Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; writer Jamaica Kincaid; Pamela Omidyar, J89, a social justice advocate and founder of the organizations Humanity United and HopeLab; Pierre Omidyar, A88, a Tufts trustee emeritus, philanthropist, entrepreneur and founder and chairman of eBay; and Robert Solow, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in economics.

“Most Interesting Times” for Medical and Sackler Graduates

 Tufts medical school graduates, standing, recite the so-called Lasagna Oath, a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath written by Louis Lasagna, former dean of the Sackler School, as Sackler students, in front, follow along. Photo: Kelvin Ma


At the medical and Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences commencement ceremonies, held in the Gantcher Center, the spirit was both lighthearted and shot through with sobering comments on the historic moment and its challenges. This was the 119th Tufts Medical School commencement and the 33rd such event for the Sackler School.

Harris Berman, medical dean ad interim, noted that the day’s graduates are launching their professional careers at a “most interesting” time. Amid tightening resources, they will be generally required to “do more with less,” as he put it. Berman exhorted members of the graduating class to bring fresh perspectives to the stubborn problems of delivering medical care to the citizens of a large, increasingly diverse nation. “The future of health care is in your hands,” he said. “We trust you to make us proud.”

Augustus Evangelista, M.D./M.B.A., gave the medical class president’s address, commenting that “after 17 years of education, 5,000 cups of coffee and a few hundred beers at Jake Wirth’s, we have reached the pinnacle.” He jokingly recalled being a wide-eyed first-year student and having to be told at the White Coat Ceremony: ‘Don’t do up all the buttons on your coat; otherwise, you’ll look like a waiter.’ ”

On a more serious note, he singled out the parents in the audience for a measure of gratitude. “I can only imagine the sense of relief you must feel on this day,” he said. “You have made the most sacrifices for us.” Evangelista thanked all the parents collectively for their love, guidance and support.

Naomi Rosenberg, dean of the Sackler School, echoed Berman’s theme of a fast-changing professional environment, cautioning graduates not to be daunted and to keep their lives in balance. “Strive for high professional achievement, but remember that personal satisfaction is also important,” she said, before noting that the perseverance they had shown in their research “may be the most valuable thing you’ve learned, and will stand you in good stead.”

The Sackler student address, delivered by Naomi Sayre, began with an anecdote of Sayre standing by an elevator one day with a flask of yellow liquid in her hand. A maintenance person asked her, “What do you do with that stuff?” and on hearing Sayre’s response that it contained DNA, followed up with another question: “Does everything have DNA?” The brief exchange that followed—which “made my day,” she said—reminded Sayre of the importance of scientists’ communicating better with the general public.

“We rarely explain our work to people without a science background,” she pointed out. “Often people think our work is impractical because they don’t understand what we’re doing. The challenge I’m setting for myself and for you, my classmates, is to become exemplary communicators, to show the world that what we do is worthwhile.”

A Team Effort at the Dental School

John Frederick Bart Addison congratulates classmate Mehdi Aryan after receiving their diplomas during the School of Dental Medicine’s commencement ceremony. Photo: Alonso Nichols


At a ceremony on Carmichael Quad, 174 dental students became D.M.D.s, as Dean Lonnie H. Norris presided over his final commencement exercises at the School of Dental Medicine. “We will graduate together. I am so pleased to be a member of the class of 2011,” said Norris, who is retiring this summer after having served as dean for 16 years and been on the faculty for 31 years. At the all-university commencement, he was named dean and professor emeritus.

“Dean Norris transformed a great school into a truly preeminent one,” said Jamshed Bharucha, the Tufts provost and senior vice president. “I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say he is perhaps the greatest dean in Tufts history. There’s no question he is one of the greatest in the country.”

“It’s wonderful to have my leadership recognized, but you never do anything alone,” said Norris. “I want to thank Tufts University. . . and all my faculty and staff . . . for all the support, respect and opportunities.”

Class president Ross Usa Icyda reminded his classmates that “dental school is definitely a team effort. I want you to promise not to lose that connection that allowed us to achieve so much,” he said. “If you need to complain, spare your spouses and families, and call a D11.”

The Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service went to Athena Papas, professor of general dentistry. Kanchan Ganda, professor of public health and community service, and Carol Kumamoto, professor of microbiology, shared this year’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Basic Science Teaching. Frank Shin, associate clinical professor of prosthodontics and operative dentistry, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching, and, for the 12th consecutive year, Charles H. Rankin, professor of endodontics, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Pre-clinical Teaching.

In addition to the teaching awards, Norris also presented certificates of emeritus to Hilde H. Tillman, D49, a pioneer in geriatric dentistry; Arthur A. Weiner, D58, an expert in understanding and managing dental anxiety; and Esther Mae Wilkins, D49, who literally wrote the book on dental hygiene 52 years ago, now in its 11th edition.

In addition to the new D.M.D.s, 14 students were awarded master’s degrees, and 58 received postgraduate certificates of achievement and fellowships. The ceremony ended with James B. Hanley, the dental school’s assistant dean for clinical affairs, leading the graduates as they recited the oath for dental graduates.

No Reprieve from Changing the World

Nutrition is “more and more related to almost every aspect of our life globally,” Dean Eileen Kennedy told the graduates at the Friedman School commencement ceremony. Photo: Emily Zilm 

At Cohen Auditorium on the Medford/Somerville campus, the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy awarded 98 degrees, including six doctorates. Dean Eileen Kennedy, who is stepping down this summer after leading the school for seven years, praised the “breadth and depth” of nutrition knowledge that characterizes a Friedman School graduate, from scientists who are well versed in policy to policy students who are grounded in nutrition science.

She noted that unlike some graduates who may have to explain the practicality of a degree in ancient Chinese literature, Friedman School students will never have to defend the relevance of nutrition. “It is more and more related to almost every aspect of our life globally,” said Kennedy, who will spend the next year in Geneva working with the World Health Organization.

Nutrition is not without its thrills, said Edward Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center, who gave the commencement address. Just last month, he said, he and a Friedman School graduate were visiting food programs in Africa and found themselves racing across the savannahs of Senegal in SUVs going 100 kilometers an hour and “dodging potholes which were obviously made by giant dinosaurs.”

“This story highlights one of the exciting opportunities and challenges that await you as new leaders,” said Cooney, a Friedman School overseer who has held two senior positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has worked on every major child nutrition and food stamp bill since 1977.

Being a true leader, he said, means always saying and doing what you think is right, no matter what the cost.

“The word ‘no’ you should treat as advisory only,” he said. In Washington, D.C., in particular, he said, the word no “means you haven’t reached the person with the amount of power necessary to assist you in achieving your stated goal.”

In giving the class address, master’s degree recipient Ronit Ridberg proclaimed it was time for her and her classmates to change the world—having gotten no reprieve by the rapture. “I thought maybe we’d be off the hook, but since the world didn’t end yesterday, it looks like we are actually going to have to do this,” she said.

With appropriate apologies to her professors, the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program graduate then compared her education to manure: “It doesn’t do anyone any good unless you spread it around,” she said. In the case of nutrition, she said that means making links for others between nutrition and health, food and the environment and production and consumption, among other things.

Fertilizer is an honorific metaphor for a graduate who hopes to support small and mid-sized farmers. She encouraged her classmates to hold onto their passion, which for her is the wonder that food comes out of the ground. “Ever pulled a giant head of garlic up by its stalk, or dug for potatoes?” she asked. “Yeah, it’s that awesome.”

Achieving a Dream

Students turn their tassels to show they have officially graduated from the Cummings School during ceremonies on the Grafton campus. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

For the 88 graduates from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, some of the words of congratulations on May 22 held special significance. “This is your hour and your century. Leave here and make a difference,” trustee emeritus William Cummings, A58, H06, told them. A foundation established by Cummings, a real estate entrepreneur, provided the naming gift for the school in 2004.

During the school’s 29th annual commencement exercises, 77 graduates received Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees; three received Ph.D.s in comparative biomedical sciences; and eight received master’s degrees in animals and public policy. Two D.V.M. candidates also earned master’s degrees in public health, while another six received the Master of Science in Laboratory Animal Medicine degree—the school’s largest graduating group in the combined program.

Student speaker Carolyn Gross, who received a D.V.M. degree, told the audience that the past four years were at times quite difficult, but worth every moment. “If we can achieve this dream, we can do anything,” she said.

Also speaking were Dominik Faissler, an assistant professor of clinical sciences, and Jamshed Bharucha, provost and senior vice president.  

The Pfizer Animal Health Distinguished Teacher Award was given to Assistant Professor Armelle de LaForcade, V97, while the Pfizer Animal Health Award for Research Excellence went to Professor Dominique Penninck. The commencement exercises also featured a new faculty prize, the Artemis Award, established by Trustee Emeritus Alfred Tauber, A69, M73. Recognizing clinical excellence, the award was given to staff veterinarian Michael Stone.

In addition, Richard Jakowski, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, received emeritus designation. In addition to leading the school’s section on pathology, Jakowski was a dedicated teacher and contributed to collaborative research until his retirement in 2010.

Clinical Associate Professor Mary Labato, V83, administered the veterinarian’s oath. Labato is a member of the school’s first graduating class and immediate past president of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association.

Challenges and Opportunities on the Global Stage

Fletcher graduates show their school pride. Photo: Emily Zilm

This year, 236 students received professional degrees from the Fletcher School—230 master’s degrees and six doctorates.

Fletcher Class Day on Saturday, May 21, featured award presentations, including the Dean’s Medal, which was given to U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who gave the keynote address.

On Sunday, the faculty address was given by Professor Richard Shultz, who received the James L. Paddock Teaching Award.

Kerry reminded the Fletcher graduates of “what an extraordinary teaching moment the past few months have been. The rapid-fire changes in world affairs reflect every challenge conceivable that you aspire to help tackle. There is so much to wrestle with—and so much work to be done to get this moment right,” he said.

Focusing his speech on the Middle East, Kerry said, “We are at a moment of great uncertainty and, yes, great promise. With the entire region in flux, we have a historic opportunity to help set a better course and build a new relationship with its people. How we respond today, right now, will shape our strategic position in the Middle East—and how Muslims around the world see us—for decades to come.”

Referring to this winter’s revolutions in North Africa, he said, “For all the false promises of Al Qaeda and their call to jihadism, the peaceful protests of Tunisians and Egyptians represented a blow against extremism that we could not have dealt ourselves.”

He continued: “We must fundamentally change our relationship with the governments of the entire region. For 10 years we focused too much on leaders rather than people. We must now see the Middle East not solely through the lens of 9/11 but through the eyes of the people in 2011.”

Kerry ended his remarks by stressing the work ahead for the Fletcher graduates. “The challenge for your generation of diplomats, policy makers and thinkers is to be prepared to think differently and act courageously to define this new world and these new opportunities. You will need to fight back hard against increasing isolationism and short horizons—against exploitative politicians who play to simplistic slogans, always looking to the short term. But that is precisely the gift and responsibility that Fletcher has given you. As President Kennedy said, ‘It is time for a new generation of leadership for there is a new world to be won.’ ”

Complete coverage of Commencement 2011, including photo galleries, video and slideshows >> 

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu. Julie Flaherty, Jacqueline Mitchell and Bruce Morgan contributed to this story.