For Immediate Release
Contact: Susan Preston
U.S. Surgeon General To Deliver UMDNJ
Commencement Address on May 25
Vice Admiral Dr. Richard H. Carmona, United States Surgeon General,
will receive an honorary degree and deliver the keynote address
at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's 34th
commencement on Tuesday, May 25, at 10:30 a.m. at the Sovereign
Bank Arena in Trenton.
The Class of 2004 is the largest graduating class in UMDNJ's
history, with 1,226 students expected to receive professional
degrees and certificates during the ceremony. It is the final
commencement over which UMDNJ president Dr. Stuart D. Cook will
preside. Dr. Cook is stepping down next month to return to the
faculty at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School.
Dr. Carmona will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
degree in recognition of his leadership in advancing the nation's
public health and preparedness. He was appointed the 17th Surgeon
General of the United States in 2002, bringing a unique combination
of qualifications as a paramedic, registered nurse, physician,
public health professional and law enforcement officer to this
position. A combat-decorated Vietnam veteran and first member
of his family to graduate from college, Dr. Carmona has launched
initiatives focused on prevention, emphasizing programs for at-risk
youth, health disparities, and the emergency readiness of the
nation's Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Also expected to receive honorary degrees and present brief
- Dr. Donald A. Henderson, who will receive a honorary Doctor
of Sciences degree for his groundbreaking contributions to preventing
and eradicating communicable diseases, advancing public health
policy and strengthening biodefense. He began his career at
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focusing
on smallpox eradication. In 1966, he joined the World Health
Organization, where he led a global smallpox eradication program,
the first and only successful campaign to completely eliminate
a human infectious disease.
- Dr. Kenneth Olden, who will receive
an honorary Doctor of Sciences degree in recognition of his
leadership at the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences since 1991. As director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology
Program, Dr. Olden has overseen the Environmental Genome Project,
which is looking at the relationship among genetics, environmental
factors and diseases, and a companion study, which is seeking
the environmental and genetic clues to breast cancer.
Three distinguished alumni citations also will be presented.
The recipients are:
- Rear Admiral Dr. Maurice B. Hill, Jr., the highest-ranking
dental officer for both the active duty and reserve ranks of
the Navy, who is being honored for his leadership in meeting
the oral health care needs of the men and women serving in the
- Dr. Miriam H. Labbok, who is
being recognized for her global leadership in nutrition as senior
advisor to the Young Child Feeding and Care Global Bureau for
the United Nations Children's Fund.
- Dr. Arthur E. Weyman, an internationally
recognized cardiologist on the faculty at Harvard School of
Medicine, who pioneered the acceptance of echocardiography as
the technique of choice for noninvasive diagnosis of heart disease.
Many UMDNJ graduates also have interesting stories to tell.
Several will be available for interviews/photos on Wednesday between
9:15 and 10 a.m. in front of the stage at the arena or by telephone.
To arrange an interview with any of the graduates listed,
please contact Jerry Carey at (856)566-6171 or Kaylyn Dines at
Following is a geographically arranged list of some of the noteworthy
When Chris Lawler, 33, of Westmont,
chose medicine as his career, he believed that to become a physician
was to also make a commitment to those who need medical care.
As a first year student at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine,
he saw that need in economically depressed communities in Camden.
Working under the direction of the medical school's Department
of Family Medicine, Dr. Lawler and a handful of other students
volunteered their services to a free medical clinic being staffed
by students and faculty from the UMDNJ-School of Nursing, so that
the clinic could be open an extra day each week. Dr. Lawler, who
is also being commissioned as a captain in U.S. Air Force Reserves,
will remain at the medical school to complete a residency program
in emergency medicine.
Although medicine was her first
love, it turned out to be the second career for Pascale
Jean-Louis, 38, of South Orange. Following her junior
year at Harvard, she took a year off from school to help care
for her father during his final illness, an experience which resulted
in her decision to walk away from her pre-med program and graduated
with a degree in social anthropology. A teaching job in Queens
put her in contact with Dr. Lorraine Monroe who, in 1991, hired
her as a teacher at the newly established Frederick Douglass Academy
The academy, which was located in
a building that formerly housed a school so wracked by violence
and poor academic results that it was closed be the New York City
Board of Education, has become a national model of achievement.
Dr. Jean-Louis still found herself drawn to medicine
and enrolled in UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. After completing
an obstetrics and gynecology residency at Albert Einstein Medical
Center in the Bronx, she hopes to teach at a medical school and
also practice medicine in an urban community.
Melita Jordan, 51, of Blackwood,
will never forget the stares she received as a pregnant 15-year-old.
The desire to break the stereotype of "only a teenage mother"
made her set her sights on being a successful career woman as
well as a successful mother. In the late 1960s, she found a role
model on a popular television show starring Diahann Carroll as
Julia Baker, a single mother, a widow and a nurse. Ms. Jordan
received her registered nurse certification from Philadelphia
General Hospital and went on to Seton Hall University where she
earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing summa cum laude
and was valedictorian of her class. Concerned about the high rate
of infant mortality in certain parts of the nation, Ms. Jordan
then completed the nurse midwifery program at the University of
Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. During commencement she
will receive her master of science degree in nursing from the
UMDNJ-School of Nursing and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in health
With a family of 21 physicians and seven dentists,
for Marissa Halum, 25, of Jersey City,
health care seemed be a natural career path from an early age.
While she will be the third member of her family to receive a
doctor of dental medicine degree from the UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental
School, she once rejected the notion of entering this profession
because she did not want to follow the career path of her dentist-mother.
In fact, her mother graduated in 1987 and her cousin in 1991 from
UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School, and her brother is a second-year
medical student at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Halum
will remain at the dental school to complete a residency in pediatric
dentistry and hopes to open her own private practice, just like
Steven Spayd, 46, of Stockton,
looked into a glass of water and found a new career path. A hydrogeologist
with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Mr.
Spayd's job is to find the source of pollutants identified in
the state's public drinking water. As part of his job, he knew
that no public well in New Jersey had ever tested above the allowable
amount for arsenic and so he was surprised when a new study at
the DEP found that some private wells in the had higher than normal
arsenic levels, including a well on his own property. His investigation
discovered that the arsenic came from
a naturally occurring source, but the experience piqued his interest
in health effects of substances like arsenic in water. This interest
led him to enroll in the UMDNJ-School of Public Health where he
will earn a masters degree at commencement, and continue his studies
for a Ph.D. degree.
Ana Bracilovic, 28, of Princeton,
knew she wanted a career that combined her love of dance and medicine.
The daughter of a ballerina, she began dancing at age seven. As
an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, she directed
a dance company and graduated with a bachelor of science degree
in biomedical engineering and a bachelor of arts in neurobiology.
As a medical student at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School,
Dr. Bracilovic completed two externships at the Harkness Center
in New York City, whose staff of physicians and physical therapists
specialize in treating and conducting research on dance injuries.
After completing a residency program in physical medicine and
rehabilitation at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, she plans
to develop a practice as a dance medicine specialist.
While still a medical student, Mergie
Decir, 31, of Old Bridge, knew in the back of her mind
that she wanted to practice international medicine. Even before
graduating from Mount Sinai Medical School, she had traveled to
Haiti to volunteer as part of a health care team bringing medical
services to a rural area of that country. That was 1991 and she
has returned to Haiti as a volunteer every year since, using vacation
time from her physician duties
at a nonprofit community health center in New Brunswick. As a
student at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health where she will receive
a masters degree in health education, Dr. Decir focused her studies
on developing ways to educate individuals on methods to manage
and control chronic diseases in communities that do not have a
health care team to administer medical intervention on a consistent
When Ricardo Perez, 29,
of Perth Amboy, entered the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic
Medicine, he did not plan to stay for six years nor become the
first student in the school's history to earn a dual degree in
medicine and law. Dr. Perez first considered the idea of a law
degree while in his second year of medical school when he was
selected to serve on a federal advisory committee at the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. His path to commencement
has included stops in Florence, Italy, to study comparative law
and in Costa Rica to hone his knowledge of environmental law.
Dr. Perez will do an internship in internal medicine at St. Barnabas
Medical Center and plans to take the New Jersey bar exam in 2005.
Lilia Reyes, 26, Piscataway,
wanted to learn first-hand about the impact of infectious diseases
in developing countries and so during her fourth year at UMDNJ-Robert
Wood Johnson Medical School,
she traveled to Columbia for a month. For three weeks, she worked
13-hour days at a hospital in Bogota where she saw the ravaging
effects that infectious diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever
and HIV/AIDS can have on an economically depressed country. She
then spent a week at Agua de Dios, a leper colony established
in 1862 that is now home to 350 patients with the disease, most
of whom are descendants of the colony's original inhabitants.
She took lymphatic samples from patients to analyze for active
infections and treated patients who were coping with the side
effects of leprosy such as disfigurement, neuropathy and blindness.
Following commencement, Dr. Reyes will pursue a pediatric residency
at Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx.
Asked to describe his experiences as a rescue
worker at the World Trade Center, Mike Saccocci, 29, of
Edison, talks about being unable to sleep at night for
fear of a building about to collapse and about the tremendous
dedication of the rescue workers searching the rubble for survivors.
Dr. Saccocci, who at the time was a second year student at the
UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine and a member of the Atlantic
County EMS Task Force, had volunteered to provide emergency care
and transportation to the workers clearing the WTC debris. The
experience reinforced his goal to remain in critical care medicine,
and Dr. Saccocci, who also has a masters degree from the UMDNJ-School
of Public Health, will pursue a one-year osteopathic internship
at the medical school followed by a residency in anesthesiology
and critical care medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
in Philadelphia. He is being promoted to the rank of captain in
the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Zhu, of Piscataway, will receive her third advanced degree
when she graduates with a doctor of dental medicine degree from
UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School. Dr. Zhu also has a medical degree
from Beijing University and a Ph.D. degree in molecular biology
and biochemistry from Rutgers University. She knew she wanted
to be a dentist while she was a medical student in China, but
the Chinese government did not allow students to switch career
paths. She will be a general practice dentist and eventually hopes
to teach dental medicine and conduct research.
Mention agricultural bioterrorism
and most people will probably think of crop dusters flying over
fields or towns unleashing clouds of deadly pathogens. But to
Peter Gregory, 25, of Randolph, agricultural
bioterrorism looks more like some non-native bug, beetle or moth
that could enter the country unintentionally or through a terrorist
plan and wreak generations of havoc on American agricultural business.
That's why his fieldwork for his masters degree at the UMDNJ-School
of Public Health took him out of the classroom and onto the docks
at the Port of Elizabeth to examine our country's ability to predict
and detect vulnerabilities to introductions of non-native species
into the environment through seaports. Following graduation, he
will be presenting his findings
and recommendations to those charged with inspecting cargo that
arrives through the port.
As a veterinarian, Dr. Corey Smith,
51, of Chester, cared for his animal patients for 24
years, but the events of September 11, 2001, made him rethink
his life. He decided on a career change and will receive a certificate
in cytotechnology from the UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions.
While he intends to obtain a job in his new field full-time, he
will still work as a veterinarian at the Mendham Animal Hospital,
his wife's private veterinarian practice, and continue yet another
career. He also has become a part-time figure model, and poses
for painting and sculpture classes at art schools in the metropolitan
New York area.
Prabhu, 24, of Basking Ridge, has the distinction of
being the first person in the 25-year
history of the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine to follow
in a parent's footsteps as a graduate of the medical school. Although
he was unable to attend his father's commencement from the osteopathic
medical school in 1994, both his father and his mother, also a
physician, will be watching when he receives his diploma this
year. Dr. Prabhu will pursue a one-year osteopathic internship
at the medical school followed by a residency in diagnostic radiology.
Onyema Edward Amakiri, 42,
of Union, began his journey to medical school more than
two decades and thousands of miles ago in his hometown of Mbaise,
Nigeria. As a high school student, he wanted to become a physician
and he earned acceptance into the Faculty of Medical Sciences.
But his dream was delayed when he was selected instead to study
veterinary medicine. In 1989, he made his way to the United States
where he worked in several jobs to "get back on track" towards
becoming a physician. His determination led to his earning a nursing
degree in 1993 and then to enter the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic
Medicine seven years later. After graduating, Dr. Amakiri will
begin an internal medicine residency at St. Michael's Medical
Center in Newark.