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May 13, 1999



'Nobility of purpose is the cardinal element of high self-esteem," Thomas E. Starzl told degree recipients at the University's 1999 commencement ceremony May 3.

"This self-assessment may surface daily, be an unwelcome visitor in the depths of the night, or be acknowledged only at the moment of death. But it is always there."

The famous transplantation pioneer was the featured speaker at the Civic Arena where the University conferred nearly 6,000 degrees. (See text of Starzl's address.)

After the opening of the ceremony by Nathan Hershey, chief University marshal and president of the University Senate, and the traditional procession of faculty and administrative officers in full academic regalia, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg welcomed the faculty, graduates, family and friends of the University.

The chancellor introduced Starzl as "one of my heroes…. When I first met him, he was easy to talk to, he was quiet and somewhat self-effacing, but with a strength and unmistakable determination to the man" that made him one of the greatest surgeons of the 20th century and among the most influential people of the millennium. "Every liver transplant surgeon in the world either trained directly under Dr. Starzl or trained under someone who did," the chancellor said.

Starzl performed the first successful human liver transplant in 1967. He joined the UPMC Health System as a professor of surgery in 1981. He now directs Pitt's Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.

Until recently, Starzl served as chief of transplantation services at three of the hospitals in the UPMC Health System, overseeing the most active transplant program in the world. Now, as director of the transplantation institute, he devotes his full attention to research.

In his speech, Starzl offered some advice to the new conferees. "Be proud, but not too proud. Many of you are here today because people cared enough to sacrifice their own welfare at your altar. I'm thinking foremost of the proud parents, sisters, brothers, friends and others who freely helped you gain an advantage which (in some instances) had been denied them. Then there are others who paid with their blood or lives in distant lands, or at home, for our right (yours and mine) to be here today."

Starzl also urged the graduates: "Never make a decision about accepting a job or duty based on its monetary reward. Your life and the lives of those you touch are too valuable to be put up for sale. Just do what you believe in your hearts to be right. You will respect yourself for this, others will respect you, and the money will take care of itself."

Nordenberg noted that, while the University traditionally awards an honorary doctorate to its commencement speaker, Starzl already has one from Pitt. He holds honorary degrees from 21 other universities, as well.

"I do want to mark this occasion appropriately, to formally acknowledge your life of service and high achievement [and] in grateful recognition of your singular contributions to the University of Pittsburgh, to higher education, to medical science and to the people of this region and throughout the world," Nordenberg told Starzl.

The chancellor then awarded Starzl a Chancellor's Medallion, the first conferred during Nordenberg's tenure as chancellor. The 15,000 in attendance rose in a thunderous ovation.

Nordenberg also acknowledged and thanked those who contributed to the success of the graduates, asking family members, faculty and staff members to stand and be recognized. Family members were greeted with long and loud applause.

Each school's conferral of degrees was met with roars of approval from its members, including a confetti eruption from the pharmacy contingent.

Long applause also followed the conferral of bachelor of science in business administration degrees, when Frederick W. Winter, dean of the Katz Graduate School of Business, pointed out that the College of Business Administration class of 1999 earned the first undergraduate business school degrees at Pitt in 35 years.

The University's newest degree-granting unit admitted students in fall 1995. There are 161 graduates in the college's first class, about half of whom graduated with honors.

Provost James V. Maher presided over the individual recognition of the newest doctorate recipients, as those present were named by their school's dean or associate dean, and asked to come to the podium.

Graduates from the 16 degree-granting schools on the Pittsburgh campus also filed to the podium to receive their diploma facsimiles and customary congratulatory handshakes.

Katherine L. Stoehr, new graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, delivered remarks on behalf of the students, and Cynthia Roth, president of the Pitt Alumni Association, welcomed the new graduates into the ranks of the alumni.

Stoehr said that foremost Pitt had taught her about herself and her responsibility in the world. "In a world of economic and environmental havoc…it is now our responsibility to ensure our children, family and neighbors are healthy and safe, locally and globally."

Roth said she was pleased to add the new graduates to Pitt's 180,000 living alumni of record. "All of you will receive one complimentary year of membership in the Pitt Alumni Association. Hail to Pitt!" Roth said.

In addition to the 5,900 degrees awarded at commencement, 950 degrees were conferred on students at the four regional campuses in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville, which hold their own graduation exercises.

Outside the Civic Arena before the ceremony, a group of 50 demonstrators carried signs and shouted slogans. The rally, sponsored by the Equal Rights Alliance, was held in protest of Pitt's refusal to grant health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of faculty and staff. (See related story.)

Pitt spokesperson Ron Cichowicz said, "We've always supported the right to demonstrate, but it's a shame for this to happen on commencement, which should be a time to honor the accomplishments of our 6,000 graduates, who are here to celebrate with their families."

–Peter Hart

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