Commencement 2018: Rhode Islander selected as student speaker for URI Commencement

Ellis Iacono is a biology and journalism double major

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Ellis Iacono
Commencement 2018, student speaker, Ellis Iacono. Photo by Randy Osga

KINGSTON, R.I. April 12, 2018 — Ellis Iacono arrived at the University of Rhode Island with the goal of becoming a doctor, and like any curious scientist, he kept his mind open to experiences and discoveries that could broaden his perspective and sharpen his focus.

The Barrington native will share some of what he has learned with his classmates, their families and friends, and the community when he addresses them at the University’s 132nd Commencement on May 20. The URI Student Senate chose Iacono to represent the Class of 2018 as its student speaker.

Iacono will graduate with a double major in biology and journalism and a minor in thanatology, the study of grief, death and dying. After graduation, he will pursue a master’s degree in public health at Virginia Commonwealth University and hopes to one day go to medical school, with the goal of working in community health.

Iacono credits the unique opportunity to study thanatology, a program within the College of Nursing, as a watershed moment in his personal and educational development. “URI has helped me develop my empathy and interest in working within the human struggle, which traces back to my thanatology minor,” Iacono said. “That development has also guided my post-graduate interests.”

He believes all doctors should be required to study thanatology. “You equip yourself excellently to work with people when they are bereft, suffering or struggling. I call it the study of bedside manner,” Iacono said, noting that he came away from the program with a great respect for nursing.

A serious student, Iacono has been on the dean’s list every semester, participated in URI’s Honors Program and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 2017. But much of his growth took place outside the classroom. He was a volunteer and employee of the Frank Olean Center in Westerly, working with children with autism, as well as Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit that supports death with dignity legislation, served as an ambassador with the Pre-Health Advising Program and was a teaching assistant.

He also co-founded and was president of URI Doc Opp, a student organization that provides peer advising for students who want to go to medical school. “I meet a lot of students who haven’t adjusted easily to college. We help them understand the process and the expectations,” he said.

Through these experiences, Iacono discovered that he truly enjoys teaching and hopes to incorporate some aspect of teaching in his health career.

As part of an Honors course, Iacono went to sea aboard RV Endeavor, the Graduate School of Oceanography’s research vessel, with Assistant Professor Melissa Omand and a dozen fellow undergraduate researchers. It was a highlight of his time at URI, bringing together students from a variety of disciplines: education, marine sciences and psychology, among others.

And his dual majors are serving him well as he completes his senior Honors project, a film documentary on the quality of HIV education in the state’s public high schools.

Iacono also enjoys writing and has worked as a medical scribe, taking notes during patient consultations and turning them into a clear narrative for care teams at the Brown University Emergency Medicine Foundation and a Texas orthopedics practice, which he considers excellent training for someone who is setting his sights on med school.