Noted neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson delivers address

June 7, 2009

 WORCESTER, Mass.—The University of Massachusetts Worcester today awarded 204 degrees, including three honorary degrees, at its commencement exercises held for the first time on campus, under a 3,000-seat tent erected on the new Campus Green. After enjoying a weekend of festive events that included a Saturday night celebration and a Sunday morning brunch for faculty, graduates and their guests, graduates of the three schools that make up UMass Worcester—the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate School of Nursing—heard a keynote address from neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, MD.

University of Massachusetts Worcester Chancellor Michael F. Collins, MD, presided over the commencement ceremonies which were held on campus for the first time to allow each graduating student to invite a larger number of guests. “This is a special moment not only for our graduates, but for their families as well,” said Collins, “We want families to share in the excitement of the day our graduates have worked towards for so many years.” Dr. Collins presented 96 doctor of medicine degrees; 46 doctor of philosophy degrees; three MD/PhDs; and, in nursing, 53 master of science degrees and six PhDs.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, an internationally renowned physician, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Carson is professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and is also the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Craniofacial Center. Dr. Carson was appointed director of pediatric neurosurgery at the age of 32, becoming one of the youngest doctors in the country to head such a division.

Dr. Carson’s personal story is inspiring. He was born in Detroit, Michigan. His mother dropped out of school in the third grade and married when she was only 13. When Dr. Carson was eight, his parents divorced, and Mrs. Carson was left to raise Benjamin and his older brother on her own. She worked two, sometimes three, jobs at a time to provide for them. The children fell behind in school – in the fifth grade, Benjamin was at the bottom of his class.

When Mrs. Carson saw her sons’ failing grades, she sharply limited the boys’ television watching and refused to let them outside to play until they had finished their homework each day. She required them to read two library books a week and to give her written reports on their reading, even though with her own poor education, she could barely read what they had written. Within a few weeks, Benjamin astonished his classmates by identifying rock samples his teacher had brought to class. He recognized them from one of the books he had read. “It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t stupid,” he recalled later. Benjamin continued to amaze his classmates with his newfound knowledge and within a year he was at the top of his class.

Dr. Carson majored in psychology at Yale and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine. He went on to complete both his internship in general surgery and residency in neurological surgery at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In addition, he served as senior registrar in neurosurgery at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II Medical Center in Western Australia. In 1987, Carson made medical history with an operation to separate conjoined twins. In 2008, Dr. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In addition to Dr. Carson, Dr. John P. Howe III and Dr. Ruth Lubic CNM, EdD, received an honorary degree. Dr. John P. Howe III, is president and CEO of Project HOPE, an international health foundation with offices and programs in 24 countries on five continents. Project HOPE has formed partnerships around the world that have brought health care to the disadvantaged, especially women and children. This program began in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower donated a U.S. Navy ship to be converted to the first non-military hospital ship in American history.

Prior to his position with Project HOPE, Dr. Howe served as chief executive of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and as Distinguished Chair in Health Policy. He also provided leadership to the University’s Medical School, Dental School, Nursing School, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Allied Health Sciences and Doctor of Pharmacy program.

A cardiologist, Dr. Howe is one of the original architects of UMass Medical School. Recruited in 1975 to help build the fledgling department of cardiology, he was soon selected to serve more broadly as vice chancellor, academic dean and chief of staff of the hospital. He left UMMS in 1985 to take the position at the University of Texas. Dr. Howe earned a bachelor’s degree at Amherst College and his medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine. He is a board member of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and the Southwest Research Institute and is founding president of the Texas Society for Biomedical Research. In 1994, Dr. Howe was appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as Chairman of the Texas Statewide Health Coordinating Council, a group chartered by the state legislature to develop a health plan for the State of Texas. Among his numerous honors and awards are the U.S. Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service and the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Award.

Ruth W. Lubic is a birthing center pioneer and women’s health advocate. Her interest in and dedication to maternity care was born in 1959 at the same time she gave birth to her son. Her obstetrician allowed her husband to stay in the delivery room. He held his wife’s hand and coached her through her breathing during a natural labor that took more than 24 hours. Then, the doctor and nurses left the new family alone for an entire hour, a rarity at that time. “It was the most important thing that has ever happened to me in my life,” Lubic has said, and when she told her doctor that the birth had moved her to consider working in maternity care, he suggested she become a nurse-midwife. She received her certificate in midwifery in 1962. She went on to direct the Childbearing Center in New York City, then opened the Morris Heights Childbearing Center, providing prenatal care to hundreds of women who hadn’t had access to it before.

In 1993, Lubic received a five-year, $375,000 “Genius” Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her contribution to the development of the birth center model in New York State and for providing quality health care to women and infants for decades. She moved her efforts from New York City to Washington, D.C., where the infant mortality rate was twice the national average, and started a birth center in one of the city’s poorest areas. Since March 2000, the District of Columbia Birth Center has provided prenatal care and birthing services to low-income women; services to families, including comprehensive health care; immunizations; and an array of social services, including job counseling, child care and adult education. The Birth Center’s six midwives and two nurse practitioners have attended and cared for more than 550 babies since the Center opened, with far lower rates of C-section delivery and premature birth than the city as a whole.

Class speakers were Amy Beth Funkenstein, MD (School of Medicine), Nicholas Willis, PhD (GSBS), and Sean Collins, PhD (GSN).