Commencement 2019: Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy to address URI graduates May 19

To be awarded honorary doctor of humane letters for groundbreaking work on mental illness, addiction

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Patrick J. Kennedy. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Forum.
Patrick J. Kennedy. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Forum.

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 11, 2019 — Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, who led the fight for health insurance parity for those with mental health and substance use disorders, will be the speaker at the University of Rhode Island’s 133rd Commencement, Sunday, May 19.

Kennedy will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by the University during its main undergraduate commencement ceremony, which will begin at 12:30 p.m. on the Quadrangle of the Kingston Campus. He will be among five honorary degree recipients. 2019 honorary degree recipients .

“We are honored to have former Congressman Kennedy deliver the commencement address to our graduates, their families and friends and our faculty,” URI President David M. Dooley said. “His address to the URI community could not have come at a more important time for the University and the nation as a whole as we seek to more fully address mental health issues and neurological disorders. The congressman’s courage and determination led to bipartisan approval of landmark legislation he sponsored, which has made us a better, more compassionate and more inclusive country.”

During his 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, Kennedy fought to end discrimination against those with mental illness, substance use disorders and other brain diseases. Founder of The Kennedy Forum and DontDenyMe.org; co-Founder of One Mind and Psych Hub, and former commissioner on the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, Kennedy will address an audience of about 15,000.

He is best known as the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, (Federal Parity Law), which was passed with bipartisan support, and signed into law by President George W. Bush Oct. 3, 2008. The law provides millions of Americans, previously denied care, with access to mental health and addiction treatment by requiring insurance companies to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression and addiction, no more restrictively than illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.

In addition to the Federal Parity Law, Kennedy authored and co-sponsored dozens of bills during his time in Congress to increase the understanding and treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

He served on the House Appropriations Committee; the Subcommittee on Health, Education and Welfare; the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs.

After the death of his father, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy in 2011, Kennedy left Congress to devote his career to mental health advocacy and enforcement of the Federal Parity Law, pursue a healthier lifestyle and start a family.

In 2013, he founded The Kennedy Forum, a non-profit organization whose mission is to transform mental health and addiction care delivery by uniting mental health advocates, business leaders and government agencies around a common set of principles, including full implementation of the Federal Parity Law.

As co-founder of One Mind (formerly One Mind for Research), Kennedy helped spark a global revolution in how scientists collaborate to study, diagnose and treat brain diseases. The organization pushes for greater global investment in brain research, which Kennedy has called “the next great frontier in medicine,” and is pioneering a worldwide approach that ensures scientific research, results and data are available to researchers everywhere. Current initiatives are accelerating the discovery of better diagnostics, treatments and cures for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The next step will be to extend One Mind’s open science principles to increase the pace of cures and treatments for all brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), addiction and depression.

Inspired by his work in both organizations, but still facing the daily struggle to fight stigma, in 2015, Kennedy co-authored the New York Times Bestseller, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”

Kennedy’s most important achievement continues to be leveraging his powerful family legacy in the arenas of civil rights, mental health and intellectual disabilities to advance the cause of social justice and health equity for all people. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Amy, and their five children.