Message To Touro Grads: finding personal relevance, meaning and inspiration

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Touro College’s Division of Graduate Studies held commencement ceremonies for the nearly 2,000 candidates for master’s degrees or advanced certificates from six graduate schools on June 13 in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

The audience of approximately 2,700 included parents, well-wishers, Touro administrators, faculty and staff, and the degree candidates from the graduate schools of business, education, Jewish studies, psychology, social work and technology.

“Today we celebrate the achievements of the graduates of 2013 – educators, health practitioners, entrepreneurs, social workers, psychologists and technology experts – who have rededicated themselves to their professions and, in many instances, chosen new careers to fulfill their goals and aspirations,” said Alan Kadish, M.D., president and CEO of Touro College and University System. “Our hearts are filled with pride and joy as we celebrate the talent and the achievement our graduates represent.”

Division of Graduate Studies Vice President Anthony J. Polemeni, Ph.D. made brief remarks congratulating the candidates. He was followed by the deans from each of the schools, as well as a student speaker representing each school, who also offered remarks.

The keynote address was delivered by Olajide Williams, M.D., chief of staff and chief medical officer of neurology, Columbia University, and founder of Hip Hop Public Health, an organization that works to change behavior in high-risk communities with hip hop music.

Dr. Williams spoke of growing up in Africa, and the extreme poverty he found including during his time in medical school. “Going to school was a fantastic dream,” he said, noting most children do not attend elementary school and adult literacy rates are well below 40 percent. “For many Africans their only inheritance is the ability to dream about what many of you are living today.”

Dr. Williams encouraged the graduates to search for their unique gifts that they can give to the world. “True success is not defined by the size or scope of our work but by our ability to hear the cry of one heart and respond to it. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot make a difference.”

The deans of the schools participating in the ceremonies were Sabra Brock, Ph.D. (Business); LaMar Miller, Ph.D. (Education); Michael Shmidman, Ph.D. (Jewish Studies); Richard Waxman, Ph.D. (Psychology); Steven Huberman, Ph.D. (Social Work); and Isaac Herskowitz, Ph.D. (Technology).

In congratulating the candidates from the Graduate School of Education, Dean Miller noted that the school is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “You helped Touro’s Graduate School of Education become recognized as outstanding,” he said. “We know that you understand and exemplify our quality standards – to be confident, to know how to teach and be pedagogically sound, and lastly to be loving and caring individuals."

Each dean introduced a student speaker who addressed the assembly on behalf of their peers. The speakers were: Ekaterina Davarashvili (Business); David Scott Lee (Education); Rivka Schiller (Jewish Studies); Philana Thorne (Psychology); Sharron Cohen (Social Work); and Edward White (Technology).

Rivka Schiller, the student speaker from the Graduate School of Jewish Studies, shared details of her master’s thesis and how it provided a window into her own family’s history and an opportunity to help a distant family member. In researching “Chmielnik, 1556-1946: The Rise and Fall of a Polish Jewish Community,” Ms. Schiller found the memoir of a family member that helped her track down the author’s niece, who had no knowledge of her own history.

“I wish all of us the good fortune of finding personal relevance, meaning and inspiration in all that we do,” Ms. Schiller said. “Ultimately, this is the true key to success – even more so than all the certificates, diplomas, and degrees.”

Sharron Cohen, who earned her M.S.W. from the Graduate School of Social Work when she returned to school after many years, said she learned at Touro that one cannot be taught to be a social worker – that “empathy and a desire to help our fellow human beings is something that comes from within. Our teachers at Touro recognized these gifts in all of us.”  Ms. Cohen encouraged her peers, if they ever doubt themselves, to “remember [that] we were born to do this. And we have what it takes to succeed.” 

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