John J. Petillo, PhD
April 26, 2005
New Jersey Performing Arts Centers
As I begin my remarks, everyone please take a moment to look around this room.
We chose this inauguration ceremony to be held here to make a statement. It is not all about the graceful elegance and beauty of this center. That is self-evident. It is about the similarity of this center and UMDNJ and the communities they are serving. It is about our mission ahead.
This venue-amidst what the media has lately and wrongly inferred-was not chosen for its splendor and gilded trappings. We chose it for the spirit and the power of commitment it signifies.
This center, like the University, was all made possible by people who did not wither before the criticism of the moment. Individuals like former Governor Tom Kean, Ray Chambers, Mort Pye, and Larry Goldman. They really knew what Mark Twain meant when he said about his critics, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
Many doubted that a great university could also rise from the ashes of central Newark to become a statewide institution. The University, like this center, personifies accomplishment and change. It is about servant leadership.
Within these walls, human spirits have been refreshed, renewed, and reminded. The performances have been from the simple to the esoteric. There have been the innovative and the traditional. Through all of them, this hall has witnessed the power, the pride, and the passion of a gifted cadre of women, men, and young people expressing themselves and their talents through the arts.
This performing arts center is but a short distance from where I grew up as the son of immigrant Italian parents, where Italian was spoken, and the lash of bias against immigrants was felt even then.
For me, where I came from, and the generation I was a part of, education was our salvation. It is in that context that we come to celebrate the power, the pride, and passion, of New Jersey’s higher education and, specifically, this great University. And we celebrate it in a facility that is a testament that dreams can be realized.
First, let me quote the pragmatic genius of Thomas Edison, who said, "I start where the last man left off." In my case, that is Dr. Stu Cook, a dedicated physician and educator. Today, I am here not to replace you, but to succeed you. Stu, you deserve this University’s acknowledgement and praise.
This is a moment to celebrate solidarity in higher education. The wealth of intellectual resources that the higher education community provides and offers the citizens of this State needs to be understood and appreciated more fully. The college presidents who are here with us are leaders of institutions that prepare young women and men to be tomorrow’s leaders. By their presence, they pay tribute to this University.
At their institutions, students learn skills for various professions but, more importantly, they are challenged to think and question within the context of the humanities, as well as the sciences.
Aristotle wrote, "It is a mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." If we are to thrive as a community, this State needs to provide access to higher education, so that the minds ranging from our young adults to our senior citizens may understand concepts behind Aristotle’s words, may understand that contextually, history and literature can teach, may understand that the true gift of education is freedom to understand.
Such a responsibility is not limited to government leaders and elected officials. It is a fundamental obligation of our citizenry. If there is to be a future of opportunity, all of us must be engaged in seeing that higher education is a priority.
Such was the priority five decades ago when first-generation women and men burst open the collegiate gates never before open to them. In this hall are many individuals who, themselves, are first-generation college graduates. Consider the difference that degree, and experience itself, has made in your lives.
I stand before you as one of those who was the first in a family to pursue a college degree. My mother was a secretary and my father, a carpenter...wonderful professions providing for a secure family. There was, however, no collegiate legacy in our family. Yet, in their wisdom, my parents understood the richness of the college experience.
For so many of us here, consider how different our lives would be if access were denied to us. As the son of an immigrant, and first-generation collegiate, I clearly understand the power that higher education has had in transforming my future. There still are numerous daughters and sons of New Jerseyans today that quest for similar opportunities.
What was good and rewarding for many of us has not changed. Let us not forget the power of having been graduated...the difference it made in our personal economic life, as well as in our social and cultural venue. If there is to be a future enriched by today’s youth, then all of us must be engaged in supporting resources to our higher education community. Those that have come after us cannot be denied what we, ourselves, have benefited from so wonderfully.
Indeed, this State’s higher education community does have the power to help educate and prepare the workforce for generations to come. It is a social contract that cannot be ignored, shattered, or dismissed without grave consequences.
Within this framework of higher education, I would like to address this University’s contribution to our communities.
With less than 40 years to her name, this University boasts an enormous wealth of intellectual acumen committed to discovery, teaching, and caring. For too long, the unknown richness of this University became misinterpreted and misrepresented as greatness wanting. Clearly, the opportunities of the reorganization process awakened our greatest resources...namely, our faculty and the thousands of co-workers who know well, the depth and comprehensiveness of their work in the University. Indeed, there is-and should be-pride in the comfort of who this University is to itself and to our communities.
The struggle for such recognition is ongoing. Yet each month that passes, the accomplishments of discovery and delivery are illustrative of this academy’s competencies.
In Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, the story’s main character, struggles to affirm his abilities despite significant obstacles. He finds that determination and greatness are the source of his pride. As a character, Santiago demonstrates that greatness can be attained as pride helps him endure. This faculty has demonstrated that the same determination in pursuit of greatness so evident in their research and our centers of excellence. Our faculty is the core of this University’s greatness.
As we complete our strategic plan with University-wide participation, and state-wide impact, we are coming to a consensus about our focus for these next several years. As this process was inclusive and transparent, so now must we adapt accordingly in our implementation and operations.
Moving through maturation in this University’s life, it becomes critical that centers of excellence be strengthened, funded, and continually evaluated. It is with pride that New Jersey can reference our Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Center for BioDefense, the recently-established Geriatric Institute and the Child Care Institute, and the Institutes for Cardiovascular and Neurosciences. These, and other education and research endeavors, along with our hospital alliances, are continuing to enhance the strength of the State’s health sciences university.
Italian architect, painter, and sculptor Michelangelo captured it dramatically when he wrote, "A man paints with his brains, not with his hands." The pride of intellect and discovery bears harvest in the caring hands of our faculty and staff.
Yet, we cannot remain static because of what has been attained so far. Discovery is the very core principle for our future. Discovery must be engaged if knowledge is to be expanded. Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress, wrote, "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge."
It is pride in whom we are and who we can become that will distinguish this University. It is a pride not of arrogance but of honor, not of smugness but of self-esteem. It is pride in knowing that this University is committed to a core competency of translating its scientific research into clinical delivery throughout the state.
That takes me to the final point, that of passion...as excitement, as enthusiasm, as commitment.
Through our various units and affiliates last year, two million patient contacts were made. From its inception as the State’s health sciences university, the delivery of quality health care has been a core principle. As we move aggressively to buttress our clinical centers of excellence, we cannot and will not forget that we are here to serve all citizens within the State.
Today, I clearly and unequivocally reaffirm this University’s service to the poor, the underserved, and the uninsured.
There is no more basic security than knowing that this University will care and advocate for our communities. We owe no less to our sisters and brothers. Aside from being the largest hospital provider of charity care, often left unsaid are the enormous hours of care that our clinical faculty have been providing.
That is the passion of which I am speaking. It is the passion that continues to engage them for the future.
We cannot and will not allow the social contract on which this University was founded, to be eroded any further. Whether in Camden, New Brunswick, Newark, Stratford, Piscataway, or Scotch Plains, our campuses will always be there to serve the most vulnerable.
It is this passion for caring that will have us seeking assistance from government, corporate and private donors. For example, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been a major supporter of our University and has given more than $100 million to support research, education, and patient care. I am proud to say we are in the process of finalizing another major commitment from that foundation. Also, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey has committed over $8 million dollars in recent years. We are sincerely grateful to them as they help us to achieve the excellence for which we all strive.
It is a passion that will have us strengthen our clinical affiliations and, simultaneously, expand the comprehensiveness of our clinical delivery.
It is a passion that will have us shout about disparities in health care...or women and children as victims with AIDS...or the devastation of the enormous incidence of cancer among New Jerseyans.
It is this passion for caring that will have us continue opening our doors and hearts to all. The customs, cultures, and names may be different, but our obligation and focus for clinical care will not wane.
To our Latino communities, especially, as you have grown in presence, you must know you are welcome. You are part of our fabric.
A mis hermanos y hermanas Latinas, por favor perdonen mi pronunciación, pero quiero ser claro en exhortarles que sean parte vital de nuestra comunidad y sus servicios.
Ciertamente, necesitamos ser más sensitivos a su lenguaje y costumbres.
Queremos a la vez, invitar a los jóvenes de su comunidad a considerar una carrera en el campo de la salud.
Prometo que esta Universidad continuara mejorando sus sensibilidades en la educación y el cuidado de la comunidad Latina.
As a community of learners and caregivers, let us engage our future with passion. With all that is around us; let us probe for discovery; let us expand the body of knowledge; let us appreciate who and what is around us.
Maya Angelou wrote, "I want all my senses engaged. Let me absorb the world’s variety and uniqueness." Her words should, and can be, the spirit that keeps our passion alive for teaching, research, and delivery of care. By appreciating variety, diversity, and uniqueness, together, as a university, we can mightily engage the future.
This has been a wonderful day for the University and for me. It should be, however, more than a memorable event. Toni Morrison, in describing her novels, said that everyone’s life is a story that should be told. Today is but a piece of our unfolding story, a history still in the waiting.
For our guests, I can only hope that you have come to a deeper appreciation of this University and its intellectual competencies and capacities. For our communities throughout the state, I hope you clearly understand our commitment to serve all people. And for our faculty and staff, I can only encourage you, and hope that you will stand with me in stewardship, as together we engage the future, for this grand University.