Center News Magazine: Academic Convocation Recognizes Graduates and Award Winners

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus; Convocation keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski; and Chairman of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Boards of Overseers and Managers Douglas Warner Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus; Convocation keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski; and Chairman of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Boards of Overseers and Managers Douglas Warner

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 30th annual Academic Convocation featured a stirring address by Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and honored students receiving PhD degrees for work conducted in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s laboratories; younger Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians, scientists, and postdoctoral research fellows; and established clinicians and investigators from the Center and beyond.

Many things go into the success of an institution like ours,” observed Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus in his opening remarks at the Center’s 2009 Convocation on May 14. “They almost all fall under the rubric of delivery of care to patients with cancer, research to make cancer a more manageable disease in the future, or the training of people to care for patients with the disease and make further research gains.” “Today,” Dr. Varmus continued, “you’ll hear particular emphasis on the

Keynote speaker Dr. Hrabowski electrified the audience, gathered in the Rockefeller Research Laboratories Auditorium, telling stories of his coming-of-age in segregated 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, and how his childhood experiences led him to “ask what I could do to have more people of color excited about math and science, and how I could convince the world that people could come from any background and become the best.” He reminded the graduates that “it takes researchers to produce researchers… . My challenge to you is to think about how you can, in the midst of doing your own research, pull in other people — more women, more people of color, more people from low-income backgrounds — and get them excited about asking the good questions, using the knowledge that they have. It can make all the difference …

This year, 31 students received their PhD degrees from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, an academic partnership between the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Sloan Kettering Institute. Introduced by Harold Varmus and Sloan Kettering Institute Director Thomas J. Kelly, the graduates and their research accomplishments were described by their faculty mentors.

In addition to recognizing the achievements of students, Academic Convocation honors Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians and scientists at various points in their careers with several awards that acknowledge outstanding accomplishments.

Two awards were presented to investigators working outside the Center. The C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship was given to Douglas R. Lowy, Deputy Director of the Division of Basic Sciences in the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Lowy played an integral role in the development of the vaccine against the human papillomavirus, which instigates most cases of cervical cancer, the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide. The Katharine Berkan Judd Award Lectureship was presented to Janet Rossant, head of research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Dr. Rossant has been a leader in the study of embryos. During the course of her work, she has revealed many of the molecular and genetic interactions that are responsible for determining the fate of cells.

The winners of the Samuel and May Rudin Awards for Excellence in Nursing were also recognized.

Our distinguished and energetic faculty has shown you their commitment to students, and their own excitement about research going on in a variety of disciplines,” said Dr. Varmus in concluding the ceremony. “I’d like to dedicate this last round of applause not only to the graduating students, but to those who have mentored them.