UConn Names 2016 Commencement Speakers, Honorary Degree Recipients

The director of the National Science Foundation, an Academy Award-winning producer, and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge are among this year's speakers.

President Susan Herbst reads the citation to award Robert J. Schiller an honorary degree during the School of Business Commencement ceremony at Gampel Pavilion on May 10, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The director of the National Science Foundation, an Academy Award-winning producer, and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge are among UConn’s honorary degree recipients this year. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)

The director of the National Science Foundation, an Academy Award-winning producer, and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge are among UConn’s commencement speakers this year. They will each also receive honorary degrees, bestowed in recognition of extraordinary and lasting distinction that represents the highest intellectual and moral values.

At UConn, individual schools and colleges hold commencement ceremonies for their graduates. This year’s speakers include: France A. Córdova, School of Engineering;  Oliver Stone, Graduate School; Judge Christopher F. Droney, School of Law; Charles Osgood, Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine; John Kim, School of Business; Peter Constantine, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Dianna R. Wentzell, Neag School of Education; Marguerite Littleton Kearney, School of Nursing; George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; Jane Chu, School of Fine Arts.

France A. Córdova, School of Engineering

France A. Córdova is the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. NSF is a $7.2 billion independent federal agency, with a mission that is vital to supporting the nation’s economy, security, and ability to remain a global leader. She will receive an honorary doctor of science.

Córdova is president emerita of Purdue University, where she served as president from 2007 to 2012. Prior to her tenure at Purdue, she was chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, and vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 1993 to 1996, Córdova was chief scientist at NASA. She is a recipient of NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal. She has been a professor of physics and astronomy at UC-Riverside, UC-Santa Barbara, and the Pennsylvania State University. Córdova was also a deputy group leader in the Earth and space sciences division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her scientific contributions are in the areas of observational and experimental astrophysics, multi-spectral research on x-ray and gamma ray sources, and space-borne instrumentation.

More recently, Córdova served as chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of Mayo Clinic. She also served as a member of the National Science Board; as NSF director, she is an ex officio member of this board. Córdova has a BA from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

Oliver Stone, Graduate School

Oliver Stone is a distinguished screenwriter, film director, and producer. During his 40-year career in cinema, he contributed to landmark films of varied genres, from political thriller in “JFK” to a musical in “Evita.” He will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.

Through his works, Stone has dedicated his enormous talents to bringing provocative and compelling perspectives to challenge the understanding of historic figures and moments that have shaped the 20th century. For his contributions and his cinematic artistry, he received numerous recognitions, including three Academy Awards for “Midnight Express,” “Platoon,” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Stone is also at heart a student of and commentator on history. His selection of projects has highlighted lessons learned from individuals of great power and position but with great moral defects, who have led their organizations and countries astray. His project, in partnership with Professor Peter Kuznick of American University, “Untold History of the United States,” is an important case in point. This book and documentary series shown on Showtime reviews “human events that at the time went under-reported, but that crucially shaped America’s unique and complex history over the 20th Century … from the atomic bombing of Japan to the Cold War and the fall of Communism.” In the spirit of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Stone’s work asks citizens to question some of the bedrocks of the country’s historical foundation and to be critical of existing society, holding that it is a “responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.”

Stone has participated in compelling discussions on college campuses, where he inspired students to delve deeply into their studies. His work in “Untold History of the United States” drives home lessons about heritage, and encourages others to develop the perspectives and the courage to challenge the status quo to make a difference to their community and society.

Christopher F. Droney, School of Law

Judge Christopher F. Droney serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which decides appeals from the U.S. District courts in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. He was appointed to the appeals court by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2011, after receiving the American Bar Association’s highest recommendation. He will receive an honorary doctor of law degree.

He previously served 14 years as a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Connecticut, having also received the Senate’s unanimous confirmation for that appointment, preceded by four years as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Before entering government service, Droney worked in private practice as a trial attorney and was a partner in the Hartford law firm of Reid & Riege PC. He was elected to the Town Council of West Hartford in 1983, and served as mayor from 1985 to 1989.

Droney was born in Hartford and received a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Holy Cross College in 1976. In 1979 he received a Juris Doctor degree from UConn School of Law, where he was the notes and comments editor of the Connecticut Law Review.

Charles Osgood, Schools of Medicine & Dental Medicine

Charles Osgood is an American radio and television commentator and writer who has contributed significantly to the cultural and social development of the U.S. and the world. He will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Osgood’s daily program, “The Osgood File,” has been broadcast on the CBS Radio Network since 1971. Each three-minute “Osgood File” focuses on a single story, ranging from a breaking development of national importance to a whimsical human-interest vignette. He has also been anchor of the two-time Daytime Emmy Award-winning “CBS News Sunday Morning” since 1994.

The theme of his reporting has centered on cultural and social values of different segments of the society in this country and globally. His stories have shown heroism, innovation, humanism, will power, and determination in role models for success and meaningfulness in life. Osgood won an Emmy Award in 2005 for his story “Playing for Peace.”

Among his personal trademarks are his bow tie, his weekly TV sign-off “Until then, I’ll see you on the radio,” and his propensity for delivering his commentaries in whimsical verse. Osgood has served as a trustee for Fordham University and St. Bonaventure, and is an overseer at Colby College and a trustee at the School of Strings in Manhattan. His honorary degree symbolizes UConn Health’s dedication to strong and inclusive educational programs in the practice of medicine and dental medicine as an art with humanity.

John Kim, School of Business

John Kim has an impressive 25-year history as a business executive in the investment management and retirement plan industries. He will receive an honorary doctor of science degree.

Kim has published many articles, and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including CNN, NBC, CNBC, and Bloomberg News. In addition, for seven years he was a regular panelist on the PBS program “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser.” In recognition of Kim’s exceptional professional success and contributions to the community, the UConn School of Business inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2001.

Kim is currently president and chief investment officer of New York Life, and is responsible for the Investments Group and enterprise-wide technology. With his promotion to president, the company’s largest business unit – the Insurance & Agency Group – was added to his responsibilities. Since joining the company in 2008 to run the investments subsidiary, NY Life’s assets under Kim’s management more than doubled, and third-party assets tripled. Kim expanded NY Life’s asset management business to Europe and Australia, and established a strategic relationship in Asia, gathering another $100 billion in assets under management. Profitability of the Group has also advanced sharply under Kim’s leadership, profits that are contributing to the company’s financial strength and to the dividends they pay their policy owners. In 2011, Kim took on another key role, as NY Life’s chief investment officer, where he excelled in guiding one of the highest quality general account portfolios in the industry, in the face of a weak economy and stubbornly low interest rates.

Kim is a Chartered Financial Analyst and a member of the New York Society of Security Analysts, the Hartford Society of Security Analysts, and the Association of Investment Management and Research. He was vice chair of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), and has been active with the Greater Hartford Arts Council, The Hartford Stage Co., and the Connecticut Opera Association. In 2006, he received the prestigious Pinnacle Award through the Asian American Business Development Center’s Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business award program.

Peter Constantine, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Peter Constantine, a current fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, is an award-winning literary translator and editor, specializing in literary translation from Russian, German, French, Modern Greek, and other European languages. He will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

His recent translations include Little Apples: And Other Early Stories by Anton Chekhov, and, for Random House (Modern Library), The Essential Writings of Rousseau, The Essential Writings of Machiavelli, and works by Tolstoy, Gogol, and Voltaire. Constantine also co-edited A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000, and the anthology The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present, which W.W. Norton published in 2010.

Constantine has earned many international translation awards, including the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann, and the National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov. His translation of the complete works of Isaac Babel received the Koret Jewish Literature Award and a National Jewish Book Award citation. Constantine has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellow at The New York Public Library, and a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

Dianna R. Wentzell, Neag School of Education

Dianna R. Wentzell has been an educator in Connecticut for more than 25 years, beginning as a social studies teacher and later, a teacher for gifted students. She now serves as commissioner of education at the appointment of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Prior to her appointment, Wentzell served as the State Department of Education’s chief academic officer, overseeing the Bureau of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, and the Standards Implementation Division. Before joining the Department, Wentzell served as assistant superintendent of schools in Hartford, and in district leadership positions with a focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment in both South Windsor and the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) magnet schools.

Wentzell has a bachelor’s degree in Russian studies from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Hartford.

Marguerite Littleton Kearney, School of Nursing

As director of the Division of Extramural Science Programs in the National Institution of Nursing Research, Littleton Kearney is responsible for leading, managing, and actively coordinating NINR’s extramural scientific programs, grants management, scientific merit review, and advisory council operations.

Littleton Kearney began her career in nursing after graduating from Mercy Hospital in Baltimore in 1971. She continued her education by earning a bachelor’s and master’s in nursing from the Medical College of Georgia, then a doctorate at Rush University in Chicago, where she also pursued a postdoctoral fellowship.

In the nearly 30 years following her study at Rush, Littleton Kearney has held a variety of positions at varying institutions, in both civilian and military service. During her military life, which began in 1987, she was a nurse clinician and administrator, retiring with the rank of captain after nearly 23 years. Prior to joining NINR, Littleton Kearney served as the interim dean of the Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing at the Uniformed Services University. In 2001, Dr. Littleton Kearney became a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), the highest honor bestowed in nursing.

George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources

George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis are the owners of Arethusa Farms, a dairy farm in Litchfield, Conn. Malkemus and Yurgaitis are also president and vice president, respectively, of famed high-end shoe brand Manolo Blahnik in North and South America. The men ventured into the cow trade after buying a horse farm across the road from their country home in 1996 to protect their view from developers. They started a cow-breeding operation that has become a powerhouse in competitive circles, with the slogan “milk like it used to taste.” While most milk nowadays is ultrapasteurized – heated to 280 degrees for two seconds – the Arethusa owners pursue vat pasteurization, which heats raw milk to at least 145 degrees and holds it at that temperature for 30 minutes. The pair also opened a farm-to-table restaurant, Arethusa al Tavolo, in the town of Bantam in June 2013, which features the dairy’s products and is adjacent to the farm’s retail shop. Their names were initially linked to Manolo Blahnik, the company whose stilettos were made famous by the television show “Sex and the City.”

Jane Chu, School of Fine Arts

Jane Chu is the eleventh chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. With a background in arts administration and philanthropy, Chu is also an accomplished artist and musician. She leads a dedicated and passionate group of people to support and fund the arts and creative activities in communities across the nation.

Chu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born in Shawnee, Okla., but raised in Arkadelphia, Ark. She studied music growing up, eventually receiving bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and music education from Ouachita Baptist University, and master’s degrees in music and piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University. Additionally, Chu holds a master’s degree in business administration from Rockhurst University, and a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies from Indiana University.

In addition to awarding nearly $220 million in grants during her tenure at the National Endowment for the Arts to date, Chu has issued new research reports on arts participation and the impact of the arts and cultural industries on the nation’s gross domestic product; has made hundreds of trips to communities across the nation to see first-hand how the arts are impacting people and places; and launched the Tell Us Your Story project, which demonstrates the importance of the arts in our lives.

And, on the date marking the agency’s 50th anniversary – Sept. 29, 2015, Chu announced the details of her signature leadership initiative, Creativity Connects. The program will show how central the arts are to the country’s creativity ecosystem; investigate how support systems for the arts have changed; and explore how the arts connect with other industries.

Angelo DeFazio, School of Pharmacy, Graduate Ceremony

Angelo DeFazio ’85 is both a first-generation American and a first-generation college graduate. An entrepreneur from the outset, he purchased his first pharmacy at age 26, and has served as president and CEO of the Arrow Pharmacy Group since that time. He has grown his businesses in the state of Connecticut and now owns five retail pharmacies, including one at UConn Health, two management consulting companies, and one of only six medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The company also manages pharmacy services at Charter Oak Health Center, serving some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

DeFazio is active in many professional organizations both locally and nationally, and has held many leadership positions within these organizations. He was named 2012 Pharmacist of the Year by the National Community Pharmacists Association. In 2008, he received the Bowl of Hygeia from the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, which recognizes pharmacists who are leaders in providing community service. He was named Connecticut Pharmacist of the Year in 2002.

DeFazio is a former chair, and an emeritus member, of the UConn School of Pharmacy Advisory Board. He also serves the University as an adjunct faculty member, working with UConn pharmacy students on rotation; has partnered with the school on medication management research; and is always on the leading edge of new practice models.

George R. Spratto, School of Pharmacy, Undergraduate Ceremony

George R. Spratto served as dean of the School of Pharmacy at West Virginia University from 1995 to 2006. During his tenure at West Virginia, he also served as interim director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center for a year.

Prior to Spratto’s move to West Virginia, he was a faculty member at Purdue University, rising through the ranks from assistant to full professor, and then served for 11 years as associate dean for professional programs. While at Purdue, Spratto also served as an adjunct professor of pharmacology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Lafayette Regional Medical Program.

Spratto graduated from Southington High School in Connecticut, and earned his bachelor’s in pharmacy from Fordham University and his doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Minnesota. He completed a six-year term on the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and served as its president for three years, beginning in 2006. He continues to be involved in the evaluation of domestic pharmacy programs as an ACPE consultant. He also completed a four-year term on ACPE’s International Commission, and has worked with universities in the Middle East to review their pharmacy programs.

In 2009, Spratto was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. He currently serves on the UConn School of Pharmacy Advisory Board, on the Professionalism Committee, and on the Academic and Technical Standards Committee.