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Many Roads Lead to Commencement

Friday, May 17, 2019

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Dear Tulane Community:

It's time to celebrate! Commencement has finally arrived.
 
Tomorrow the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be filled with more than 3,000 graduates along with their families, friends and faculty. There will also be an all-star lineup, including keynote speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Blythe Danner, and civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis. These and all our honored guests will salute and celebrate the academic achievements of our graduates and the limitless possibilities of their collective future.
 
Being Tulane students, of course, the Class of 2019 did not wait for the future, or for graduation, to bring about positive change in the world.
 
Over the past year, biomedical engineering seniors Hannah Eherenfeldt and Ben Knapp, working with business management and cell and molecular biology senior Zack Rosenbloom, developed a simulator to help medical students acquire vascular surgical skills in a controlled and monitored environment, thus reducing their "on the job" training. After graduation, Hannah and Ben will focus on a startup they formed to further refine and market their technology.
 
Graduate Derek Dashti also began his own startup while working toward his Tulane degree. Through our Bioinnovation PhD program, which fosters student development of innovative biomedical technologies and products, Derek is developing and hopes to soon market a method to regenerate damaged tissues and organs. This includes regenerating the esophagus, which can aid in the treatment of esophageal cancer.
 
For Sunshine Best, the path to Commencement was littered with obstacles, but she had a will to succeed. With that will, she went from being nearly homeless to becoming a recognized leader in preserving and promoting vital food-based knowledge developed by cultures of the African diaspora and indigenous populations, including the use of plants as medicine.  
 
During her time at Tulane, Abi Mbaye, who will deliver the student speech at tomorrow's ceremony, championed diversity, inclusiveness and unity. After she receives bachelor's degrees in public health, Africana studies and English tomorrow, she will continue studying at Tulane, finishing her master's degree in English. Eventually, she intends to become a physician.
 
Some graduates, like SoPA's Eric Lane, took the road less traveled to Commencement. He will fulfill his dream of earning a Tulane degree after 20 years overcoming personal loss, recovering from Hurricane Katrina and taking a pathway through Delgado Community College to Tulane. Today, employers are seeking him out for the skills and knowledge he acquired through his major in applied computing with a concentration in cybersecurity and homeland security and a minor in political science.
 
As they traveled the road to Commencement, members of the Class of 2019 also learned the meaning of Tulane's motto, Non sibi, sed suis: "Not for one's self, but for one's own." A perfect example of this can be found in the story of Gerald Williams who, with the help of his law school family, has overcome a devastating diagnosis of stomach cancer, completed his studies and will earn his juris doctor tomorrow. Gerald is a true fighter and an inspiration to all.
 
The Superdome is only four miles from Tulane's uptown campus and just blocks from our downtown campus. But for our graduates, it is both the end — and the beginning — of the journey of a lifetime. There are many, many other inspiring stories from this year's graduating class. Some may be told by NBC, Bloomberg Television or other national and local media who plan to cover Commencement 2019. Others can only be read in the smiles and tears of joy that tomorrow will bring – but all are worth hearing and celebrating.

That is what Commencement is all about.

Signature of Mike Fitts