University of Rhode Island announces 2018 Commencement speaker, honorary degree recipients

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to address graduates

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Gina McCarthy
Gina McCarthy, University of Rhode Island 2018 Commencement speaker.

KINGSTON, R.I., April 9, 2018 — Gina McCarthy, a leading advocate for the protection of public health and the environment, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree and will address an audience of approximately 15,000 gathered for the 2018 undergraduate commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20, at 12:30 p.m. on the URI Quadrangle, Kingston Campus.

McCarthy is considered an authoritative voice on environmental issues and their implications for society. She helped shape environmental and transportation policies in Massachusetts and Connecticut before joining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. President Barack Obama named her administrator of the agency in 2013.

In addition, an honorary doctor of humane letters degree will be awarded to Jim Taricani, a widely respected investigative reporter who covered organized crime and government corruption in New England during a career spanning nearly four decades with WJAR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Rhode Island.

Along with McCarthy and Taricani, the University will award honorary doctorate degrees to Dr. Dharam V. Ablashi, a renowned scientist and humanitarian; Akihiro Nikkaku, a global business innovator and CEO of Toray Industries, Inc.; and Anne Mimi Sammis, a Rhode Island-based painter and sculptor who is internationally acclaimed.

The honorary doctorate degree is the highest honor bestowed by the University, and these five men and women will join 428 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.”

Gina McCarthy
An independent thinker, consensus builder, and informed expert, McCarthy served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration. While there, she led efforts to meet historic public health and environmental protection goals at the agency, establishing the nation’s Climate Action Plan and signing the Clean Power Plan, which set the first national standards for reducing power plant emissions. That plan signaled the nation’s commitment to climate action and imparted momentum to the international Paris Climate Agreement.

In 2017, McCarthy was named a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and a Richard L. and Ronay A. Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is a professor of Public Health Practice and director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. McCarthy also works as an advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity fund that invests in wellness and sustainability.

Dr. Dharam V. Ablashi
Dr. Dharam V. Ablashi

Dr. Dharam V. Ablashi
A renowned virologist and humanitarian who has influenced the lives of thousands of people within the field of immunovirology research and beyond, Ablashi will receive an honorary degree of doctor of science. He is internationally known for his research on human and simian herpes viruses and the connection between viruses and cancer. He received his master of science degree at URI in pathology and virology. As a graduate student, he was a co-investigator on a research grant from the National Institutes of Health. In 1963, while studying at URI, he helped found the International House in Providence, whose mission is to promote friendship, connection, learning and global understanding, and he remains actively committed to that organization.

Ablashi served as a senior research virologist at the National Cancer Institute’s Tumor Virus Laboratory for 23 years, and as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He co-discovered a human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) with Dr. Robert Gallo in 1986 and advised NASA on the risk of viral infection to astronauts traveling to space with primates and developed medical research tools for Advanced Biotechnologies Inc. Ablashi is the scientific director of the HHV-6 Foundation, which he co-founded. Born in India, Ablashi holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine at Panjab University Veterinary College, received a diploma in bacteriology from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute.

Akihiro Nikkaku
Akihiro Nikkaku

Akihiro Nikkaku
An honorary degree of doctor of business will be bestowed on Nikkaku, chief executive officer and chief operating officer of Toray Industries Inc. and a visionary business leader. Nikkaku embraces the Toray Group’s philosophy of “contributing to society through the creation of new value with innovative ideas, technologies and products.” For Nikkaku, business growth is inseparable from sustainable business practices. He guides Toray to build sustainable, low-carbon, recycling-based communities by developing innovative technologies that address global environmental issues.

Under Nikkaku’s leadership, Toray pledged $2 million toward construction of URI’s College of Engineering complex and endowed $2 million in engineering fellowships and scholarships. Toray consistently extends internship opportunities to students and remains actively involved in the International Engineering program. In fact, of the more than six dozen engineers employed at Toray, 23 are URI graduates.

Anne Mimi Sammis
Anne Mimi Sammis

Anne Mimi Sammis
Sammis, a Rhode Island-based painter and sculptor whose work is commissioned around the world, will receive an honorary degree of doctor of fine arts. Concurrent with receiving this honor, URI is hosting an exhibition of her work titled Expressions of Peace, Love & Joy an exhibition of works by Anne Mimi Sammis at Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons April 20 to May 20.

In 2002, Sammis was commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury to create a sculpture in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. Her sculpture, He Has the Whole World in His Hands, is on permanent display in Lambeth Palace, London. Her One Thousand Years of Peace exhibition of 30 bronze sculptures was shown at the United Nations in 1999, and later at The Hague, Netherlands. Her celebrated sculpture in Narragansett, Dance of Peace, is considered a local landmark. At her coastal Rhode Island home, Sammis holds weekly gatherings, where attendees share their art, encourage each other, and discuss topics related to art, spirituality, creativity, and inner peace. Her work and her willingness to share her gifts and support others’ creativity have inspired thousands.

Jim Taricani
Jim Taricani

Jim Taricani
Taricani’s unwavering courage in pursuit of the truth has long set him apart in his profession and beyond. Respected nationwide for his integrity, Taricani was sentenced to six months of home confinement in 2004 for refusing to disclose a confidential source who provided him with a surveillance tape reportedly showing a City of Providence official accepting a bribe. A federal judge imposed the sentence after fining Taricani $85,000 and finding him guilty of contempt of court.

Taricani would then become a nationally recognized advocate of a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources and traveled the country delivering dozens of speeches in favor of the “Free Flow of Information Act.” He worked with the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press to urge Congress to protect journalists, and he testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in favor of the legislation.