Fairfield University announces speakers and honorary degree recipients for its 2012 Commencement ceremonies


Image: J RussonielloFairfield University's 2012 commencement speakers are respected leaders and major contributors to society: Joseph P. Russoniello '63, a Fairfield alumnus who went on to become one of the most prominent prosecutors in the United States, successfully arguing public corruption, espionage, and murder cases; and Fairfield residents Bob and Suzanne Wright,who after co-founding Autism Speaksbecame game changers in the study of autism by championing a greater worldwide understanding of its cause and the need to help individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.

This will be the 62nd commencement for Fairfield and the festivities will take place on Sunday, May 20, on Bellarmine Lawn, with a ceremony for undergraduates at 9:30 a.m. and a 3 p.m. ceremony for graduate students.

The undergraduate address will be delivered by Joseph P. Russoniello,who whileserving as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California acquired an impressive record of prosecutions. He was appointed to that post by President Ronald Reagan and was subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He personally prosecuted Larry Layton of the Peoples Temple for his part in the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan in Jonestown, Guyana, and tried several other high profile criminal and civil cases.

Image: Bob and Suzanne WrightHis office prosecuted the Hitachi and Mitsubishi corporations for their theft of IBM secrets; Jerry Whitworth and James D. Harper Jr. in separate espionage cases; and dozens of white collar crime cases involving financial institution fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, public corruption, defense procurement fraud, and copyright infringement. Mr. Russoniello was appointed in 2007 to a second tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California by President George W. Bush, and served in that post until 2010. His priorities during this time included national security, helping to get guns off the street, and prosecuting Internet child pornography distribution. In between those tenures, he served as dean of the San Francisco Law School. A former special agent with the FBI, his accomplishments also include serving as an assistant district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco early in his career and serving as counsel for Cooley Godward Kronish LLP. A member of numerous civic and legal organizations, he was appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and served as a member of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Prior to earning a B.S.S. degree in history from Fairfield in 1963, he graduated from St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey. He earned a J.D. degree from New York University Law School.

Long a part of the fabric of the local community, Bob and Suzanne Wright will deliver the commencement address at the afternoon ceremony for graduate students. After their grandson was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Bob Wright, the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal, and Suzanne Wright committed their lives to making the public aware of the devastating impacts the disorder has on children. At the same time, they have worked tirelessly to raise funds for research and treatment. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its estimate of autism prevalence in the United States to 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys.

Image: J FerreiraThe Wrights founded Autism Speaks just seven years ago, and since that time discussion of autism has moved to the front page. Autism Speaks has grown into the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. It now has affiliates in several countries. The organization also has made enormous strides - Autism Speaks played a critical role in the reauthorization of the landmark Combating Autism Act of 2006, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011. Enactment of the law reaffirmed the federal government's commitment to autism as a public health priority and authorized $693 million for autism research, surveillance, education, detection, and intervention over three years. In addition, Autism Speaks alone has committed more than $173 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. The battle for autism insurance reform still rages and Autism Speaks continues to fight. The organization has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 31 states. Notable awareness initiatives include Light It Up Blue, a global campaign to raise funds and increase awareness of autism throughout Autism Awareness Month in April. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 95 cities across North America.

The Wrights have ties to Fairfield University. Their son Chris graduated from Fairfield Prep. At the Dolan School of Business, there is a chair dedicated to Bob Wright, a graduate of the College of Holy Cross and the University of Virginia School of Law. He and Suzanne Wright are the parents of three grown children and have six grandchildren. They have lived in Fairfield for almost 30 years.

In addition to the speakers, honorary degrees will be bestowed on:

  • Image: Fr CliffordCommunity advocate Jane E. Ferreira, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, Conn., who has made the Center a powerful engine of change, serving women in need by providing them with crucial literacy instruction.
  • Prolific author Fr. Richard J. Clifford, S.J., a revered Old Testament scholar and founding dean of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, one of the nation's leading schools of theology. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1966.
  • Fairfield alumnus Dr. Joseph Timpone '80, B.S., M.D., a key medical researcher who is a leading infectious diseases specialist at Georgetown University Medical Center with special interests in general infectious diseases, HIV disease and antiretroviral therapy, and neurological manifestations of AIDS.
  • Sister Clare Fitzgerald, S.S.N.D., Ph.D., founding director of Fairfield's American Studies Program who has been a passionate, beloved teacher for 64 years and a 'doyen of Catholic education.' Her many leadership positions include serving at Boston College as the founding director of the Catholic Leadership Program, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

 

Images from top: 1) Joseph P. Russoniello; 2) Bob and Suzanne Wright; 3) Jane E. Ferreira; 4) Fr. Richard J. Clifford, S.J.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 24, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 281