Byline: Sara Schweiger
WORCESTER -- Many of the 1,100 members of the Worcester State University class of 2014 learned on Saturday that they had something in common with commencement speaker John L. Sullivan, M.D.
"Fifty years ago, I was the first in my family to go to college -- like nearly a third of you here today,'' said Dr. Sullivan, pioneering HIV researcher and former University of Massachusetts Medical School professor and administrator.
Dr. Sullivan conducted some of the earliest research on the HIV virus, and was instrumental in the discovery of the anti-retroviral drug nevirapine.
He told graduates he had wanted to attend the Air Force Academy, but was unsuccessful in getting an appointment. He attended Le Moyne College, where he majored in biology and decided to become a doctor.
He was wait-listed at two medical schools -- including SUNY Upstate -- where he then applied and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in biochemistry.
As luck would have it, the medical school had a last-minute opening.
"Take advantage of breaks and good fortune that may occur over the course of your career,'' Dr. Sullivan told graduates.
He spoke of two mentors in medical school who convinced him to pursue a career in academic medicine researching pediatric diseases.
"Mentors are extremely important in getting over the hurdles and achieving a successful career. Continue to identify and choose great advisers through your lives,'' said.
He was accepted for a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he began research training in virology and immunology. He spoke of initial frustrations, and of calling his medical school adviser, who told him to "grow up and get back to the laboratory.''
He started working at UMass in 1978. Three years later, he was captivated by a report about a new immunodeficiency disease affecting young gay men. It was thought to be the result of multiple, simultaneous infections by common viruses, but soon the disease was reported in newborns who had received blood transfusions and in adults who received medicines made from blood.
This, Dr. Sullivan said, was strong evidence that AIDS was caused by a new infectious agent. In 1984 that agent, HIV, was isolated and shown to be the cause of AIDS.
In 1985, after seeing his first child who was infected with HIV, Dr. Sullivan began studying mother-to-infant transmission of HIV, finding that it usually occurred during labor and delivery.
Dr. Sullivan's research later led him to South Africa. He retired from UMass in 2012.
Worcester State presented Dr. Sullivan with a doctor of science, honoris causa. Other honorary doctorates were awarded to longtime state Rep. John J. Binienda, WSU '70, who could not attend the ceremony; James T. Brett, president and CEO of the New England Council and a former state representative from Boston; and Robert Emmett Mullin, WSU '53 and '56, a longtime professor at Queens College who received his honorary degree during an awards ceremony earlier this month.
Holocaust survivor Thea Aschkenase received Worcester State's Community Service Award. In 2007 she graduated with honors from the university with a degree in urban studies. Today she is an anti-hunger activist and avid volunteer.
The Ella May Whitney student award, Worcester State's highest student honor, was presented to Julianne L Harris, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in communication sciences and disorders.
WORCESTER STATE UNIVERSITY GRADUATES
BACHELOR OF ARTS
Auburn: Julianne M. Fahey, Rachel E. Kish, Shane M. Matthews, Zachary W. Stuczko
Barre: Meghan M. Peddle
Berlin: Cameron G. Ciesluk
Boylston: Denise M. Laroche (S)
Charlton: Bridget T. Groh, Robert D. Kingman, Jennifer L. Morey
Cherry Valley: Nicole M. Howard
Clinton: Lorelei T. Quinones
Dudley: Sydney M. Stewart, Julia E. Tellier
East Brookfield: Emily M. MacWilliams, Kathryn A. Perreault
Fiskdale: Colby J. Bilodeau
Fitchburg: Jimena L. Punales-Santiago (M)
Gardner: Erin N. Desmarais (M), Luther C. Henshaw, Matthew R. Hermanson, Jordan N. Maxwell
Gilbertville: Riley J. Mann
Grafton: Jillian M. Petit, Jennifer M. Pogorzelski
Holden: Dominic A. DiMeco, Jordan K. Duffy, Carly E. Goodell, Michelle H. Johnstone, Erin E. Ollis
Holland: Ethan A. Anderstrom, Tyrus A. Boudreau, Jacqueline M. Dusza
Hopedale: Lauren A. Tweed
Hudson: Tianna C. Saliga (C), Arianna L. Silva (C)
Jefferson: Nathaniel P. Schell
Leicester: Adah E. Idoko
Leominster: Matthew G. Booth, Ashley B. Cornish (C), Nicole H. Elias, Jarrett A. Waite
Linwood: Sarah R. Bishop
Lunenburg: Danielle K. Maynard, Sara J. Penniman
Marlboro: Peter J. Holmes, Kailey A. Lopez, Colleen Panasevich
Milford: Thomas J. Harmon, Bryant W. Wing
Millbury: Blake A. Bengtson, Timothy L. Bickford, Kevin Rafter, Brian F. Swenson
North Brookfield: Paulius Balciunas
North Oxford: Ryan T. McArdle
Northboro: Christopher M. Hinds (C), Duncan A. Macdonald, Nicholas M. Miller, Theresa M. Smith
Northbridge: Melissa L. Mason
Oakham: Rebecca M. Gibree (C), Kyle S. Taylor (C)
Oxford: Thomas A. Friend (C), Daniel E. Hartnett, Stephanie R. Sanborn (M)
Paxton: Jessica S. Xavier
Rochdale: Nicholas M. Davolio (C)
Rutland: Taylor T. Crane, Krysta L. Ferry, Sheryl M. Reidy
Shrewsbury: Francis D. Dina, Amanda J. Jeznach, Daniel J. O'Leary, Jennifer L. Pacillo
South Grafton: Lindsey M. Stolar
Southbridge: Meaghin M. Fournier, Amie L. Lepage
Spencer: Ashley C. Carey, Daniel J. Cook, Nathan M. Herrera, Benjamin Locke, Andrew J. Philbrook, Sarah R. Ramsey (M), Jeremiah L. Shea (C)
Sterling: Laura B. Alty (C)
Sturbridge: Bob Lucier (C)
Sutton: Kaitlyn F. Glaza, Caitlin Lachowski (M)
Thompson, Conn.: Andrew M. Johnson
Warren: George D. Andrews (M)
Webster: James M. Duszlak, Kathryn C. O'Leary
West Boylston: Constanza A. Bartholomae (M), Jessica L. Dias
West Brookfield: Tyler P. Chase
Westboro: Benjamin N. Kosh, Dana C. Sarver
Westminster: Nicole R. Volk
Whitinsville: Amanda M. Hoegen (C), Sandy A. Wade (M)
Winchendon: Chelsea J. Quinn
Worcester: Melvin J. Baez, Victoria M. Baratian (M), Edward F. Brennan, Shannon F. Brevigleiri (M), Danielle J. Cappellucci (M), Yesenia Castillo, Colin T. Cawley, Timothy M. Chviruk, Katarzyna Ciemiega, Mary-Theresa G. Cournoyer, Debora K. Dias (M), Christina Donas, Robert N. Dookhran, Keith M. Dooley, Nicholas K. Duffy, Dana M. Evans, Emily K. Faucher, Mark E. Favreault, Darrell R. Ginese, Kari-Ann Godberson, Deborah A. Grady (M), Kristianna M. Hanson, Christine A...