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Commencement Address for the College of Veterinary Medicine by Donald F. Smith, Dean

FOR RELEASE: May 29, 2004

To our glorious graduates of the Class of 2004 and of the intern and residency programs; to their proud parents, family members, and friends;

To our distinguished guests, Dr. Kathy Okun, Dr. Peter Neveu; Dr. Wayne and Mrs. Diane Warriner and family; the family of Dr. Richard Goldstein; Executive staff and families; my wife, Doris Smith.

I am delighted to welcome you to the Hooding Ceremony for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

A special thanks to the assembled members of our faculty and staff for faithfully supporting our graduates this afternoon.

Commencement is a great event. For the graduates who have spent four years at Cornell, it represents the end of a remarkable journey and the beginning of another. For the faculty, staff, and administrators, it is the culmination of another year of energy and commitment directed at improving the lives of animals and people. For parents and life partners, it is the end of writing this series of tuition checks. Graduates, please join me in a round of applause in recognition of the families who brought you here and shared your educational experience.

On the day that Cornell University began instruction in 1868, Daniel Salmon was among the 400 or so undergraduate students reporting for class. Salmon received his Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree four years later and, after advanced studies, was awarded the first university-based Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in the U.S., in 1876. This was a feat considered so demanding at the time that it would not be repeated at Cornell for another 21 years.

Salmon was an extraordinary scientist and public health advocate. His name is most prominent because of its association with Salmonella, the bacterial pathogen that he identified. As leader of the federal Bureau of Animal Industry, he and his colleagues in Washington and at Cornell formed a remarkable community of scholars, educators, and practitioners. Together, they brought major and far-reaching improvements to animal production and public health practices in the United States.

Four years ago, your Class of 2004 formed another community of scholars. You came together from 50 colleges and universities, from hometowns in states from Mississippi to Alaska, and from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Your academic backgrounds ranged from animal science, biology, and environmental science to engineering and philosophy. Your veterinary interests spanned the entire range of specialty areas recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In many respects, you became veterinarians on that first day in August 2000. You didn't know it then, for you still had Block I to pass, Dr. de Lahunta's oral examination to conquer, and medicine rounds to endure. But you had begun the transformation that would turn you into real doctors, the community of veterinarians who will take leave of one another tomorrow afternoon and embark on new life journeys to reach deeply fulfilling destinations.

Through four years of gathering knowledge, you also had fun. You hosted Open House; you put on a play or two. You ran an array of veterinary clubs, staffed the Southside Clinic and the Pet Loss Support Hotline, and were active in the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Thanks to all of you who contributed so much to your class and to Cornell.

You have been a very special class, and I am confident that you will carry forth the legacy of Cornell as a special community of practitioners, educators, and scientists who will lead your profession far into the 21st century.

In achieving this goal, you will have to embrace, early in your careers, three fundamental precepts: a commitment to inclusiveness, a passion for collaboration, and a vision for innovation.

Inclusiveness takes on new meaning in this world of transnational commerce and international travel. Since you matriculated in 2000, we have witnessed the emergence of new animal diseases including SARS and monkey pox. We have also faced an unusual number of outbreaks of foreign and domestic diseases of veterinary importance, among them foot-and-mouth disease in Europe and South America; the advance of West Nile virus from the east to the west coast of the U.S.; the appearance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Alberta and Washington State; and outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza as well as exotic Newcastle disease in California. The significance of these diseases is inescapable, not just for animal and human health, but also for international trade and public policy.

This is the arena you enter as graduates, where understanding diversity at home and abroad means more than just being civil and compassionate, because our actions can have an impact on the economic welfare, political stability, and societal integrity of other cultures and nations.

The second precept is a passion for collaboration. A remarkable paradox of this age is that the more medicine becomes specialized, the more it relies on advances from adjacent fields. Within the College, clinician-scientists involved in the study and treatment of infectious diseases in animals partner with molecular bacteriologists looking at basic mechanisms of host-agent relationships. Looking outside the College, our bacteriologists and epidemiologists have partnered with faculty in food science and bioengineering to help secure a seven-year contract from the National Institutes of Health to study zoonotic diseases, those that are transmitted to humans from animals.

But our faculty also look beyond the interface of biology and medicine. We work with some of Cornell's most distinguished chemists, physicists, engineers, and computational biologists. For example, members of the chemical engineering and physics departments have joined veterinary college faculty to develop novel applications of computational modeling and the new field of proteomics to the resolution of elusive questions in cancer biology. Results of these collaborations hold great promise for the prevention and treatment of cancer of all species.

Inherent in collaborative work is a fundamental recognition of the additive value of associations with experts in areas distinct from our own. I like to think of collaboration in terms of a musical metaphor: the fugue. The fugue combines several individual voices, each separate and distinct from the other, but moving simultaneously within a common contextual richness. Each voice acknowledges and supports the essential quality of the whole, but each is valued for its distinctive contribution. The late Glenn Gould likened the fugue at its best as an explosion of simultaneous ideas within a rhythmic continuity. Here at Cornell, it is my belief that the best collaborations in the life sciences emerge from innovative ideas and syntheses that unite Cornell's unique array of strengths in the physical, biological, biomedical, and clinical sciences.

Diversity and collaboration are futile, however, without a goal. We must have a vision through which we develop a roadmap for pursuing purposeful professional lives. Cornell's reputation goes far beyond our consecutive number-one rankings in U.S. News and World Report. Since the era of Daniel Salmon, Cornell has been the most respected name in veterinary medicine. You can continue that legacy if you commit your professional life to serving a clear and meaningful purpose, if you wisely and unselfishly collaborate along the way, and if you embrace opportunities to work with others whose life experiences differ from your own.

What amazes me most about this veterinary class is that you have not been content to be leaders in the profession after you graduate. Through your commitment to inclusiveness, collaboration, and visionary leadership you have had a real impact on Cornell's culture while you were here as students. Let me give two examples.

Marla Lender engaged faculty and fellow students in raising awareness of how we obtain and use animals in our curriculum, and in modifying procedures and practices where possible. Marla is not the first to vigorously promote animal welfare issues in the veterinary curriculum and clinical environment, but she is among the most thoughtful, creative, and successful.

Brielle Rosa served in the Peace Corps in Niger before coming to veterinary college. During two of her summers in veterinary college, she traveled to Madagascar to study tuberculosis rates in dairy and zebu cattle as part of the College's Expanding Horizons Program, and assisted in the development of that country's veterinary college. Brielle and other Expanding Horizon students have also had manifold impact here at home, where they have informed our cultural literacy and stretched our imaginations.

Marla and Brielle are two graduates with very different interests, but each of them is leaving Cornell richer and more enlightened than she found it. Their stories are only two of many that highlight the exceptional leadership that is embodied by Cornell's great DVM Class of 2004.

To the residents and interns whom we honor today, let me say both congratulations and thank you, with an emphasis on the latter. You are among the hardest working veterinarians on the planet. You come to work before the sun rises and you leave long after it sets. You ease the pain and suffering of animals entrusted to your care while performing some of our most important teaching activities. You increase the scholarship of the institution through your adroit integration of medicine and science. You are a special breed of individuals who leave an indelible mark on our students, our clients, and our institution. Please accept a very sincere thank-you for all that you have done for the veterinary profession and for Cornell.

We have other graduates this weekend. Assembling later this afternoon in Barton Hall, the graduate students who have worked in the College of Veterinary Medicine will join their colleagues from across the university as they are recognized for the completion of their doctoral and master's degrees.

For all of our College of Veterinary Medicine graduates, and those who have completed their internships and residencies, my prayer is that you will commit yourselves to five core attributes to serve as guideposts throughout your personal and professional lives.

  • A desire for excellence, the passion to add value through accomplishment .
  • A willingness to be creative and to imagine new possibilities.
  • The confidence to collaborate, and with it, the desire to look outward.
  • The resolve to demonstrate commitment, the willingness to be true.
  • The conviction of integrity, the moral soundness to draw resolve from principle.

Members of the Class of 2004; accomplished interns and residents, congratulations.

         Godspeed and best wishes.