MSK’s 2024 Commencement and Convocation Honors Degree Recipients and Award Winners


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) celebrated new graduates and award winners at Academic Convocation and Commencement, held on May 15, 2024. This year, 10 students earned their doctoral degrees in cancer biology from the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSK) — the educational division of MSK. In addition, five practicing MSK doctors received Master of Science degrees in clinical and translational cancer research from GSK. The event also honored 36 students graduating from the Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences this year who conducted their thesis work in MSK labs.

This annual event also recognizes promising trainees and distinguished scientists and doctors from MSK and beyond with a number of awards and fellowships.

This year’s honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker was Elaine Fuchs, PhD, the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at The Rockefeller University. She was recognized for her contributions to the fields of stem cell biology and dermatology and for her support of women in science.

In his welcoming address to the 45th annual ceremony, MSK President and CEO Selwyn M. Vickers, MD, FACS, highlighted the important work done in MSK labs. “Our investigators continue to work together to translate laboratory findings like no other institution in the world and to make advances that can directly impact patient care,” he said. “At the same time, our researchers are always taking these findings from the clinic back to the laboratory for further study.”

MSK Board member Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., for whom the GSK graduate school was named, was also on hand to honor the graduates and Dr. Fuchs.

Awarding Promising Trainees and Leading Scientists and Doctors

GSK Dean Michael Overholtzer, PhD, presented awards to several graduate students doing their research in MSK labs. The students represented GSK as well as the Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences and the Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program of MSK, Weill Cornell, and The Rockefeller University.

Ushma Neill, PhD, Vice President for Scientific Education and Training, presented awards to several graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Among those, she recognized the four recipients of Marie-Josée Kravis Women in Science Endeavor (WiSE) fellowships, which support women in science. She also introduced the two winners of this year’s  Maximizing Excellence in Research, Innovation, and Technology (MERIT) fellowships, which fund the research of young investigators from historically underrepresented groups.

Joan Massagué, PhD, MSK Chief Scientific Officer, Sloan Kettering Institute Director, and GSK Provost, announced that Richard Hite, PhD, an Associate Member in SKI’s Structural Biology Program, had received the Louise and Allston Boyer Young Investigator Award for Basic Research.

Clinical research was also celebrated. MSK’s Chief Physician Executive, Lisa DeAngelis, MD, presented awards to several recipients, including Hans Gerdes, MD, winner of this year’s Willet F. Whitmore Award for Clinical Excellence.

Dr. Gerdes is a gastroenterologist and Director of the Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Unit at Memorial Hospital. He was recognized for his technical skills as well as his generosity as a teacher, mentor, and colleague. 

“Dr. Gerdes’ supreme clinical judgment, technical acumen, and calm under duress are widely recognized, and his colleagues consider him the go-to guy for complex GI procedures,” Dr. DeAngelis said. “He is a consummate team player who is always ready to help his colleagues.”

‘Your Training Has Prepared You Well’

Dr. Fuchs was presented with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Biomedical Science. Dr. Massagué read the medal citation and, along with Dr. Vickers and Mr. Gerstner, presented Dr. Fuchs with her honorary degree.

Dr. Fuchs has made important contributions to the fields of stem cell biology and developmental biology. Through her elucidation of the genes and molecular mechanisms that drive skin development and lead to skin diseases, she is widely credited with helping to modernize the field of dermatology. As the first female faculty member in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Chicago, she helped to blaze a trail for women in science and has served as a valued colleague and mentor to many. 

In her message to the graduates, Dr. Fuchs highlighted how much biomedical research changed just in the time the students were enrolled in graduate school and talked about how progress would continue to affect their careers going forward. “An important lesson of modern medicine is that the answers to medical issues of the day reside in understanding the basic science that underlies them,” she told them. “Your training has prepared you well for this, and today you and your families are going to be rejoicing in your well-deserved achievements.”

She added, “Your degree today and your choices tomorrow are going to take on all the more significance in the years to come. Your education has given you perspective. It’s taught you how to think, not what to think. You’re leaving behind a world that was created for you. Your education now gives you the newfound ability to sculpt your own life on your own terms.”

Honoring the Newest GSK Graduates

In his address to the graduates, Dr. Overholtzer said, “We’re here to honor you as people, to recognize all that you have achieved a result of believing in and betting on yourselves. All of the experiences you have had here, the friendships you have made, the personal and collective challenges you have endured, and most importantly, your triumphs. They have enriched you in so many ways. You’ll carry these experiences forward with you wherever you go. I would say what a remarkable trip this has been and congratulations to each of you. You made it.”

This year’s student speaker was GSK graduate Chi Nguyen, who conducted her thesis research in the lab of Marcel van den Brink, MD, PhD. “Earning a PhD is really a story of perseverance and tenacity in the pursuit of truth, scientific excellence, and impact,” Dr. Nguyen told her classmates. “This community has inspired me to reach higher, to dream big, and to chase these dreams fearlessly. I stand here today a part of the bigger community of PhD students and graduates who are all driven by the conviction that we want to change the world for the better.”

This year’s 10 graduates from the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences made important contributions toward solving fundamental problems in basic biology and cancer science. Learn about their accomplishments and their thesis research.

Recognizing Important Accomplishments

During the ceremony, awards were presented to other investigators within the MSK community:

The 2024 honorees from outside MSK were:

  • Bruce Stillman, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, received the Katharine Berkan Judd Award.
  • John O’Shea, MD, Chief of the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch at the National Institutes of Health and Scientific Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, received the C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship.
  • Olivier Delattre, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Biology and Genetics department at Inserm (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research) and Director of the SIREDO Oncology Center at Institut Curie in Paris, received the Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize.