Commencement 2019: University of Rhode Island announces five 2019 honorary degree recipients

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 11, 2019 — A former congressman who led the fight for health insurance parity for those with mental health and substance use disorders, an educator who uses tall ships as platforms to educate college students about the ocean and environment, the founding director of the leading international engineering program, a renowned musician and philanthropist, and a former college president will be awarded honorary degrees by the University of Rhode Island at its 133rd Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies Sunday, May 19.

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

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree and will address a crowd of about 15,000 during the University’s main undergraduate commencement ceremony, which begins at 12:30 p.m. on the Quadrangle of the Kingston Campus.

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, addiction, and other brain diseases. He is best known as the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires insurers to cover treatment for mental health and substance use disorders no more restrictively than treatment for illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.

See additional press release announcing Kennedy as the 2019 commencement speaker.

In addition, honorary degrees will be presented to Edward Avedisian, a clarinetist with the Boston Pops for 35 years and the Boston Ballet Orchestra for more than 40; Margaret “Peg” Brandon, president of the Sea Education Association; URI Professor Emeritus John M. Grandin, founding director of the International Engineering Program (IEP) and Lynn C. Pasquerella, the current president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and former president of Mount Holyoke College.

The honorary doctorate degree is the highest honor bestowed by the University, and these five men and women will join 433 esteemed individuals recognized with this distinction since URI’s founding.

“We are privileged to present honorary doctorate degrees to these distinguished individuals, whose accomplishments exemplify our common values of integrity, honesty, compassion, creativity and civic-mindedness,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Their achievements have made lasting contributions to our state, our nation, and the world.”

Edward Avedisian
Edward Avedisian

Edward Avedisian, doctor of humane letters

The son of Armenian Genocide survivors, Edward Avedisian grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in Pawtucket and graduated from the city’s public schools.

Avedisian was a clarinetist with the Boston Pops for 35 years and the Boston Ballet Orchestra for more than 40. He has performed around the world and was twice appointed a Fromm Fellow for Contemporary Music Performance under the direction of Aaron Copland at Tanglewood.

Avedisian’s artistic achievements are rivaled only by his philanthropy, including a $5 million gift to the University’s College of Pharmacy in 2017 in memory of his brother, Paramaz Avedisian, a 1954 graduate of the College. The pharmacy building bears his brother’s name. In addition to the Endowed Professorship in Organic Chemistry, he has established the Paramaz Avedisian Pharmacy Scholarship.

He also fully funded the Center for Health Studies & Research and the Center for Business Research & Development at the American University of Armenia. He is the founder of the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian K-12 School & Community Center in Armenia and was the sole benefactor and chair for renovation of Armenia’s Nork Marash Medical Center.

In 2008 Avedisian (BU’59,’61), was named Boston University Distinguished Alumnus and has contributed to the Boston University School of Medicine and College of Fine Arts.  In 2016 he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. He presently serves as a Board Member of Light Sciences Oncology.

Margaret Brandon, ’80, M.M.A. ’97 doctor of science

Margaret Brandon
Margaret Brandon

Margaret “Peg” Brandon, president of Sea Education Association (SEA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, first went to sea with SEA’s flagship study abroad program, SEA Semester, as a URI undergraduate student. Since then, as mariner and educator, she has committed herself to empowering students with life-changing sea voyages of scientific and cultural discovery, academic rigor and personal growth. Established in 1971, SEA is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education, taking students of all majors to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans aboard its two tall ships to conduct oceanographic research.

Brandon was a member of SEA’s faculty for more than 15 years, leading numerous SEA Semester voyages, and has logged more than 100,000 nautical miles at sea as a U. S. Coast Guard licensed captain. In 2010, she was awarded the Maine Maritime Academy Teaching Excellence Award, and in 2017 she received the Tall Ships America Leadership Award.

Last year, she was selected as an Arthur Vining Davis Foundation Aspen Fellow for the Aspen Ideas Festival. During her tenure as president, SEA has received the 2016 National Science Board Public Service Award and the 2018 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education. Under Brandon’s leadership, SEA continues to equip its students with the tools needed to become environmentally literate leaders prepared to address human impact on the environment.

John M. Grandin, doctor of engineering

John M. Grandin
John M. Grandin

John M. Grandin, is founding director of the International Engineering Program (IEP) and professor emeritus of German. The IEP is one of the first global engineering programs in the nation, and one of the few that educates truly bilingual engineers. Other schools look to URI as a leader in this field due to the vision of Grandin and his co-founder, the late Hermann Viets, former dean of the College of Engineering.

Dramatic enrollment growth in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures occurred with strong help from the IEP. The program combines engineering study with German, French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and now a minor in Japanese.  The program attracts outstanding undergraduate students from all over the country and exchange students from partner universities in each of the IEP language areas.

Major financial support has come to the IEP from governmental, corporate and private sources because of the efforts of Grandin and the other IEP faculty working in coordination with engineering faculty. Grandin has received numerous awards, including the Federal Cross of Honor from the Federal Republic of Germany.  He has published widely on cross-disciplinary initiatives. Grandin is the founder of the Annual Colloquium on International Engineering Education, which brings together engineering and language faculty with university administrators and international educators to explore ways to prepare young engineers for the global workplace.

Lynn C. Pasquerella, doctor of letters

Lynn C. Pasquerella
Lynn C. Pasquerella

Lynn C. Pasquerella is president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Prior to her appointment at AAC&U, Pasquerella served as the 18th president of Mount Holyoke College and provost at the University of Hartford.

For 23 years, Pasquerella was a member of the URI community. She began as a philosophy professor in 1985, after earning her Ph.D. at Brown University. She held a variety of leadership roles, including philosophy department chair, interim vice provost for research, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school. Recently named one of the top 35 women leaders in higher education by Diverse Issues in Higher Ed, Pasquerella shaped URI through her work with the Instructional Development Program, the Center for Ethics and Public Service, the Multicultural Center and research projects aimed at diversifying STEM fields.

Pasquerella is the host of Northeast Public Radio’s The Academic Minute, showcasing cutting- edge research and scholarship by faculty across the country. She currently serves as the president of Phi Beta Kappa Society, as a member of the advisory board of the Newman’s Own Foundation, sits on the board of directors of the Lingnan Foundation and the National Humanities Alliance and is on the ethics committee of George Washington University Hospital.