Campus ties follow distinguished alumna.


Byline: Lynne Klaft

FITCHBURG - Dr. Patrice K. Nicholas celebrated with more than 500 students at Fitchburg State College's 114th Commencement ceremony yesterday, talking to them about serendipity - making fortunate discoveries by accident.

The two-time Fulbright scholar, director of Global Health and Academic Partnerships at Brigham and Women's Hospital, professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, and researcher of HIV/AIDS, chronic illness and end-of-life care, told students about the serendipitous event that led to her attending Fitchburg State College in the early 1970s.

"My parents attended a wedding in Fitchburg and met (then-college) President James Hammond," Ms. Nicholas said.

He told her parents about the "terrific faculty, the future of this great school in producing leaders in society."

"My parents were sold on FSC for me, and there were no coed dorms so the deal was sealed and I was enrolled here for what were among the best four years of my life," she said.

The word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole, an English art historian and man of letters, after reading a Persian fairy tale about three princes of Serendip (now Sri Lanka) who traveled the world "making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."

Like the three princes, Ms. Nicholas has traveled the world in her quest for learning. She also told the graduates of how often during her career she came across people she had studied with at the college.

"So I ask you to look to your right and look to your left. If your life is like mine, these bonds that you share with those around you or perhaps that you build with FSC graduates as your lives progress, those bonds can be among the most important friendships and professional relationships that you forge," Ms. Nicholas said.

Besides her undergraduate nursing degree from Fitchburg State College, Ms. Nicholas earned a master and doctor of science degree in nursing from Boston University, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University's School of Public Health and completed a master of public health degree in international health.

Ms. Nicholas is also an associate clinical scientist at the Cantor Center of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, served as a visiting professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Swaziland, St. Luke's Hospital in Tokyo and Catholic University in Belgium.

Ms. Nicholas was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Retired Brig. Gen. Oliver J. Mason Jr., the former adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, received a Distinguished Alumnus Award at the ceremony.

"He is the definition of the citizen soldier," FSC President Robert V. Antonucci said of the 1975 graduate of the college who enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard while still a student.

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