May 27, 2011

BCM Graduates Encouraged To ‘Move Mountains’

Dr. Peter Hotez, internationally renowned tropical diseases expert, told the graduating class of Baylor College of Medicine Tuesday that they are well-prepared to make a major difference in improving the human condition.

"Your Baylor College of Medicine credentials represent the most powerful and versatile degrees that exist," Hotez said. "They are the envy of the intellectual world. Go out and move mountains!"

Hotez gave the commencement address at a ceremony in which BCM President Dr. Paul Klotman presented degrees to 178 medical school students and 47 PH.D. graduates. Another 38 Ph.D. graduates for 2011 are already working in their fields of research and did not participate in the ceremony.

Honorary degrees conferred

The ceremony included the awarding of four honorary degrees to recognize exceptional support and service.

Dr. John Mendelsohn, who will retire as president of MD Anderson Cancer Center this summer, was recognized for his service as the cancer center leader for the past 15 years, as well as his own significant research accomplishments. Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin, a former astronaut and the first U.S. physician to fly in space, was recognized for his contributions to space biomedical research and space medicine. Both Mendelsohn and Kerwin received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in Medicine.

Dr. Craig Montell, professor of biological chemistry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was recognized for his discovery of TRP channels in fruit flies and later in humans, transforming the understanding of how animals detect a broad array of sensory inputs. James Mansour, chairman of the oversight committee of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, was recognized for his leadership and support of CPRIT's work to reduce the burden of cancer on humanity. Both Montell and Mansour received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities in Medicine.

Take ownership

Klotman reminded the graduates of how far they have come in their training, and the responsibilities that come with the privileges of their professions.

"As a physician and a scientist, you are expected to uphold the standards and ethical practices that our social contract demands," he said. "You no longer represent yourself alone."

"Baylor stands for excellence and leadership," he continued. "You will find wherever you go that Baylor has prepared you well. You will stand out from your peers. Don't shy away from that, take ownership of it."

Addressing graduates, families, friends

Klotman called on a representative of both the graduate and medical school classes to speak on behalf of their classmates. Dr. Christopher Bland, who received his doctorate in cellular and molecular biology, spoke for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Alexandra Callan, who will continue with residency training at Vanderbilt University in orthopedic surgery, spoke for the medical school graduates as their class president.

Hotez is the Walter G. Ross Distinguished Professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at George Washington University. A specialist in tropical diseases and vaccine development, he serves as president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which focuses on vaccine advocacy and policy and the development of vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.

He is an iconic figure in research on the group of 17 chronic parasitic and related infections that represent the most common infections of the world's poorest people.

Hotez spoke to the graduates about his work, through vaccine development for neglected tropical diseases, of improving the lives of "the bottom billion," the poorest people living in the world's low- and middle-income countries.

Improving the human condition

Emphasizing that Baylor has now "gone global," he told the graduates they have in hand medical and Ph.D. degrees from "one of the world's great centers of medical and scientific learning."

"There is no problem you cannot solve. Between the time I started my training and finished my education, no one had ever before run an SDS polyacrylamide gel on a hookworm. Imagine a disease of 600 million people and virtually no biomedical literature on the topic.

"You are in an equal position to discover new innovations for our greatest afflictions. Indeed for most diseases, studies leading to breakthrough understandings or new medicines, diagnostics and vaccines have yet to be discovered. No one is better trained for using science in the pursuit of improving the human condition than the graduates before me this evening."


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