Fairfield University awards 320 diplomas at commencement ceremony for graduate students

Fairfield University awards 320 diplomas at commencement ceremony for graduate students

As clouds gave way to sunny skies on Bellarmine Lawn, Fairfield University awarded diplomas to 320 graduate students at the University's 60th commencement exercises today. It was the second time in Fairfield's history that a separate commencement ceremony was held for graduate students, with the first being held last year. Commencement for undergraduates took place this morning.

Image: Dr Abbruzzese Speaking at the graduate student ceremony was Fairfield alumnus Dr. James Abbruzzese '74, a recognized leader in the field of pancreatic cancer research and treatment. Born in Hartford, Conn., he is the M. G. and Lillie A. Johnson Chair for Cancer Treatment and Research and chairman of the department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

He spoke of how his own interest in cancer research was first sparked at Fairfield during a 1973 lecture by the late Dr. Donald Ross, professor of biology so often remembered for guiding many graduates toward medical school. "I can remember being quite excited to learn what I felt was one of the great secrets of biology and medicine," said Dr. Abbruzzese, referring to then theories regarding the viral origins of cancer.

Despite the "significant breakthroughs" on the horizon, Dr. Abbruzzese noted to graduates that he has devoted much of his life to a disease that has so far eluded the development of methods for prevention, early diagnosis or effective therapy. "Through this work I have learned that there is value in setting your sights on trying to accomplish something in your life that is hard: to challenge yourself to make even the smallest difference in a difficult problem," he urged.

He went on to suggest that individuals holding Jesuit university diplomas have a special charge in life. "As the most recent beneficiaries of the great tradition of Ignatian humanism and Jesuit education, I think you are in a uniquely powerful position to make a palpable impact," said Dr. Abbruzzese, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree. "This does not necessarily imply that you should or need to project an overtly religious flavor to your actions, but to paraphrase the words of Ronald Modras from his 2004 book on Ignatian Humanism: 'Your spiritual energy should project integrity, commitment to justice, and concern for the needs of our fellow human beings.' "

Image: SOE grads Dr. Abbruzzese's memory of Professor Ross was quite moving for graduate Mark Ross to hear. He is Dr. Ross's grandson. "I felt proud to be his grandson," said Ross, of Fairfield, who earned a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering from the School of Engineering. "He taught me so much about doing things for others and true examples of Magis."

The address also held great resonance with Andy Pezzino, of Danbury, Conn., who was also among the many outstanding graduates. For the past year, he has battled  cancer while pursuing an M.B.A. from the Dolan School of Business.

Image: Fairfield University awarded diplomas to 320 graduate students at the University's 60th commencement exercises today. Pictured are School of Engineering graduates Thomas Boe-Wiegaard, of Easton, Kelly Benitez, of Trumbull, and Usman Asif, of Stratford.

With a second surgery behind him, he is "fully healed" and done with treatment. He's thankful for his Fairfield professors and the people at Cartus, a Danbury company where he works. "I had a great experience at Fairfield, and I'm so glad I even got to study abroad in Barcelona with Dr. Solomon, [dean of the Dolan School]."

Beth Lambert, a Wilton, Conn., resident who earned a master's degree in American Studies, delivered the valedictory address. She told her fellow graduates how her four years at Fairfield coincided with her struggle to find the cause of her two young daughters' mysterious health issues. No doctor could provide a diagnosis.

With the blessing of Dr. Leo O'Connor, director of the American Studies program, Lambert embarked on a research project that led her to a hypothesis about why her daughters were sick – and why so many children nationwide have been diagnosed with illnesses, including ADHD, autism and behavioral disorders. "In the end, I learned that particular elements of American society - our corporatocracy, our healthcare system, our way of eating, working and living - all of these things were leaving our children overmedicated, undernourished, and exposed to a panoply of toxic substances," she shared. "Collectively, these environmental factors have created an entire generation of children with weakened immune systems struggling to survive in a toxic world."

Image: GSEAP grads The fruits of Lambert's research include founding a non-profit organization, Parents Ending America's Childhood Epidemic (PEACE), and writing a book, "A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America's Children" (Sentient Publications, 2010). Her daughters are healthy.

Barbara Blau, of Weston, Conn., who earned a degree from the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, was honored with the Saint Ignatius Loyola Medal, an award presented by the Fairfield University Alumni Association. It recognizes an outstanding student who has committed him/herself to the Jesuit education ideals of maintaining high academic standards in addition to substantial involvement in community service and extracurricular activities.

Image: Timothy Ley, of New Canaan, and Chantel Lovett, of Bridgeport, received their diplomas from Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.

Twelve students were awarded certificates of advanced study.

Earlier in the day, Fairfield awarded 921 bachelor's degrees and six associate degrees at the undergraduate commencement. Dr. Katherine Lapp, a 1978 alumna of Fairfield, who is executive vice president of Harvard University, delivered the address and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

The University also conferred honorary degrees on Dr. Mayra Luz Pérez Díaz, the first woman to be named president of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua; art historian Emily Rafferty, the first woman to be named president of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Rev. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., professor of New Testament at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Posted On: 05-23-2010 10:05 AM

Volume: 42 Number: 299