Mount Sinai School of Medicine Commencement Celebrates Those Who Changed Medicine and Those Who Fought for Change

Michael J. Fox and Earvin "Magic" Johnson were among the leaders and luminaries from science, sports, entertainment, and philanthropy who set a high standard for the class of 2009.

New York, NY
 – May 15, 2009 /Press Release/  –– 

At its 40th commencement ceremony, Mount Sinai School of Medicine honored legendary scientists and renowned humanists whose work has advanced biomedical research both in laboratories and on the national stage.

Held at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, in Manhattan, the event reflected Mount Sinai’s commitment to translational science, medical advocacy, and the mentoring spirit that has transformed medical education.

The graduates in this room are the image of what the American physician should be—someone who is selfless, provides equal care to all Americans, and is a leader in a generation of unprecedented discovery, said Dennis S. Charney, MD, Dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of The Mount Sinai Medical Center. "Never have the challenges in our community and country been greater. We must remember the virtues that guide us and allow us to be agents of change. One is altruism—to be your brother’s keeper."

Peter W. May, Chairman of the Mount Sinai Boards of Trustees, commended the graduates’ service to patients and to the global community. "I like to think of Mount Sinai’s class of 2009 as the ambassadors of service whether you are working in Harlem or Honduras," said Mr. May. "You are graduating from a medical school that is in the top 25 in the U.S. You have been taught by world-renowned faculty who emphasize teamwork, leadership, and character. I know you will continue to inspire and heal others for years to come."

Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Mount Sinai Medical Center, challenged graduates to always strive for answers as problems in health care continue to grow across the country.

You are destined to be one of the leaders and revolutionaries in your chosen fields, he said. "In your communities you have the potential to set expectations and frame the health care debate for years to come. You are entering medicine at a very unique time in our country’s history—the national unemployment rate is touching 9% and more than 46 million Americans are uninsured. We are counting on you, because quite simply the health of our nation will depend on you."

Of the seven honorary degree recipients, the individuals we are honoring today embody the pioneering spirit that defines the Mount Sinai physician and researcher, Dr. Davis said. "They have inspired millions of people worldwide contributing to science, medicine, and public awareness."

Doctor of Science honorary degrees were given to four pioneers in the biomedical sciences:

  • Susan Hockfield, PhD, President and Professor of Neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) whose use of monoclonal antibody technology in brain research led to the discovery of a protein that regulates changes in neuronal structure. Dr. Hockfield’s groundbreaking work continues with the more recent discovery of a gene and its family of protein products that play a critical role in the spread of cancer in the brain.
  • Robert C. Gallo, MD, Director and Professor, Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who co-discovered the virus that causes AIDS and revolutionized the fields of medicine, immunology, and virology. Dr. Gallo is the only individual to have twice received the prestigious Albert Lasker Award in Medicine, once in 1982 and again in 1986.
  • Robert S. Langer, ScD, one of the most innovative biomedical engineers in the United States and one of only 14 Institute Professors ever at MIT, discovered new ways to administer drugs to patients with ailments ranging from cancer and heart disease to burns. He directs the largest biomedical engineering research laboratory in the world and leads investigative research examining stem cells; insulin, cancer-fighting drugs, growth factors, vaccines; angiogenesis inhibition; and new ways to create tissue and organs.
  • Ronald M. Evans, PhD, Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Professor at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology, is a leading authority on metabolic disorders whose work examines hormones in states of normalcy and disease. One of his most significant achievements was the discovery of a family of molecules that respond to steroid hormones, vitamin A, and thyroid hormones. These molecules are now targets in the development of treatments for breast cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia, asthma, and osteoporosis.

Honorary degrees were also conferred to three entertainment luminaries:

  • Anthony J. Martell, Founder and Chairman of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research. Named after his son, who died of myeloblastic leukemia at age 21, the foundation has raised more than $250 million that go toward finding cures for these debilitating illnesses.
  • Michael J. Fox, a distinguished actor and founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Mr. Fox’s acclaimed acting career – which includes the television shows Family Ties and Spin City, and the Back to the Future movie series -- was cut short by Parkinson’s disease. He has since become a vigorous advocate and fund raiser for the scientific study of Parkinson’s and embryonic stem cell research.
  • Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Magic Johnson Enterprises received Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degrees. First known for his 13-year career with the National Basketball Association, in 1991 Mr. Johnson launched a foundation dedicated to developing programs and services that address the educational, health, and social needs of ethnically diverse and urban communities. His "I Stand with Magic" campaign seeks to end HIV/AIDS in the African American community. He has awarded more than 800 college scholarships to minority high school students and awarded more than $1.1 million to community-based organizations working to reduce HIV/AIDS among vulnerable populations.

Mr. Johnson, who also delivered the commencement address, was honored for his contributions to underserved communities, including those served by Mount Sinai. His tireless efforts with the Magic Johnson Foundation continue to generate support, education and awareness for HIV/AIDS among vulnerable populations. Mr. Johnson thanked Mount Sinai for the honor, and noted "This is the best day of my life—the day I become Dr. J."

In his address, Mr. Johnson challenged the Class of 2009 to continue to work hard and maintain their sense of discipline as they begin their careers.

Winners understand what they have to do to win, he said. "When July 1 hits [the day medical graduates begin their residencies], I want you to be the first one at the hospital or clinic and the last one to leave. You are all winners. I wouldn’t mind being on the operating table and knowing that one of you are the doctors."

Mount Sinai School of Medicine granted a total of 194 degrees, which included 119 MDs, 27 PhDs, 34 MPHs, and 14 MS degrees.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center
The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. Founded in 1852, Mount Sinai today is a 1,171-bed tertiary-care teaching facility that is internationally acclaimed for excellence in clinical care. Last year, nearly 50,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients, and there were nearly 450,000 outpatient visits to the Medical Center.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine is internationally recognized as a leader in groundbreaking clinical and basic-science research, as well as having an innovative approach to medical education. With a faculty of more than 3,400 in 38 clinical and basic science departments and centers, Mount Sinai ranks among the top 20 medical schools in receipt of National Institute of Health (NIH) grants.