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Senior Week and Commencement - 2006

Commencement Address
Hooding Ceremony
Robert O. Gilbert, Senior Associate Dean
May 27, 2006

Good afternoon. Welcome. My name is Rob Gilbert. I have the great honor of officiating on this happy occasion, in the absence of Dean Donald Smith. My first responsibility is to bring you greetings from Dean Smith. Dr. Smith's son, Dennis, is graduating today from the University of Delaware. I am sure you can all understand his desire to be with his son and his family today. The good news is that he will be with us for tomorrow's festivities.

Welcome and congratulations to all our graduates of the DVM Class of 2006, and of the intern and residency programs.

Welcome, and congratulations, to all of you who are here to support New York's newest veterinarians. Welcome, parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses and partners, relatives and friends. Class of 2006, I would like you to recognize all those who are here to support you today, and have supported you over the years, with a round of applause.

Welcome to Dr. Wayne Warriner, President of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society.

Welcome and thank you to all members of the faculty and staff of the College of Veterinary Medicine. I would like all members of the faculty and staff to stand and be recognized for your contributions to the accomplishments of this class of graduates. I am especially pleased to welcome this year's Norden Distinguished Teacher of the Year, Professor Tommy Divers.

Once again, congratulations to our new graduates. This is a wonderful time to be a veterinarian. Of course, there has been no bad time to be a veterinarian. From their earliest recorded activities, animal healers have been held in high regard by society. The origins of the modern veterinary profession lie in the era known as the Enlightenment. Reason and science came to replace myth and magic as the basis for understanding the natural world. There was a new regard for animals, and a scientific approach to their diseases for the first time. This coincided with the establishment of the first great and enduring veterinary colleges in Europe, beginning with Alfort, France, in 1762. Throughout its history, veterinary medicine has advanced in tandem with the advance of science. In recent years, survey after survey has found veterinarians to be amongst the most admired and respected of professions.

The veterinary profession makes myriad contributions to modern society. We enjoy food that is more plentiful, more wholesome, more nutritious, and safer than ever before. As modern Americans we spend about 9c per dollar of our disposable income on food. This is the lowest amount in our history, and lower than the comparable figures for other developed nations. Your predecessors deserve much of the credit for this. Milk now costs less than bottled water, and considerably less than carbonated drinks.

When most of you were attending preschool, or perhaps were toddlers, a new viral disease was recognized in San Francisco. Soon AIDS was recognized as a modern epidemic. Since then we have encountered Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy first in the UK, then around the world; Hendra and Nippah viruses, which killed people, horses and swine in Australia and Indonesia; SARS, which killed people in many parts of the world, and as close to us as Toronto; West Nile virus, and H5N1 Avian Influenza, amongst others. Many of these were newly recognized agents or diseases, and all of them are zoonotic, being transmitted from animals to humans. For their adequate control, it is essential that veterinarians take their place fully as part of the public health infrastructure of our country and of the world.

Every segment of society depends on veterinary services, although not all recognize that. In 2001, a devastating outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease broke out in the United Kingdom. Millions of animals were destroyed. When the dust (and the public outcry) had settled, the outbreak had cost the agricultural sector of the UK 6-billion pounds. What many people do not recognize is that the cost to the tourism industry was 26-billion pounds. The success of the veterinary profession in preventing such outbreaks is important to more than the food consumer or the food producer. Does the average resort owner or airline industry executive realize the importance of veterinary medicine to their industries? In contemplating the full effects of a pandemic influenza outbreak in the USA, does the insurance executive realize how important veterinary medicine is to that industry?

These are just a few examples. Veterinary medicine has a crucial role to play in the overall health of our total environment, and all the creatures that share it, in our economic wellbeing in its broadest sense. Every person is affected by the profession, not just animal owners, animal lovers or animal product consumers.

I have not mentioned companion animals until now. The contribution of companion animals to our physical and mental wellbeing is recognized more clearly now than ever before. Animals are important members of most of our families. I certainly know that our two 20 pound mutts occupy more space on our bed than they leave for my wife and me. The members of our profession who care for our companion animals provide us a valuable service. They also guard the national health by being vigilant for exotic diseases, introduced by natural or nefarious means that threaten the health of people, livestock, or free living wild animals.

Every segment of our profession is important, and I want to stress that in order to completely fulfill our commitments to society, we have to populate all the segments of our diverse profession. If we fail to do so, our contribution to society will be diminished. We will fall short of what we can and should contribute. As you pursue your dreams, consider every nook and cranny of this broad and all-encompassing profession.

Another reason why this is an exciting time to be a veterinarian is that we have more tools at our disposal than ever before. You are graduating with more knowledge, or certainly access to more knowledge than any class before you. Coupled with this is access to previously unimagined technical innovation in support of veterinary practice. Although James Herriott did much that was good for the profession, he did perpetuate an image of a congenial rustic practitioner with a leather bag of primitive tools and little in the way of access to modern diagnostics or therapeutics. The differences within one generation have been dramatic.

During your four years in Ithaca, Cornell faculty members have described the first case of Streptococcus suis meningitis in a person in the USA; identified the gene responsible for inherited hyperparathyroidism in Keeshonden (and developed a diagnostic test to identify carriers); made progress in understanding the genetic basis of hip dysplasia; elucidated the pathogenesis of histiocytic ulcerative colitis in Boxers, with interesting repercussions for our understanding of human Crohn's disease; contributed to mapping the equine genome; developed new surgical treatments for osteochondritis dissecans and subchondral bone cysts in horses; clarified the mechanisms of dorsal displacement of the soft palate in horses, with the invention of the so-called "Cornell Collar" as an aid to its control; and secured a patent for a new vaccine for leptospirosis. Our faculty has also pioneered novel ways to image heart function in live animals, as well as having made seminal contributions to our understanding of meiosis, cell signaling and trafficking and a host of other basic and applied biological questions.

Ours is a science-based profession. Remember that, within every segment of the veterinary profession, we stand in need of those who will discover the new knowledge upon which veterinary practice of 2040 will be based. For some of you, the best way to honor your professors may be to emulate them.

The Class of 2006 consists of many exceptional individuals. It has been heartwarming to hear the affection with which members of the faculty refer to them. Many have had experiences during their Cornell careers that give me great hope that they will, in fact, occupy every niche in veterinary medicine, and do so with distinction. It's very difficult to single out any individual, and I certainly hope not to embarrass anyone.

Anton Asare, whose parents emigrated from Ghana, traveled there to learn about issues facing production animal veterinarians, returning with a greater understanding of the complex links between the government, the economy, local infrastructure and demand for veterinary services. Anton participated in the Leadership Program at the College, conducting research on the antimicrobial susceptibility patterns of Group G Streptococci in Dairy Cattle. With a grant from the Geraldine Dodge Foundation Anton studied reasons why relatively few minorities enter the profession. He also found time to spend 10 days in India as part of a course on Agriculture in Developing Nations. Five other members of the Class of 2006 participated in this course. They are Amanda Beaudoin, Carly Bloom, Liara Gonzalez, Kristina Hogg and Melissa Salgado.

Jordyn Boesch spent a summer of 2003 at the Center for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (CARE) in South Africa, specializing in the rehabilitation and release of chacma baboons. She spent the following summer at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia where she worked on a research project involving the reproductive physiology of cheetah sperm. Melissa Salgado also went to South Africa, where she studied behavior of Burchell's zebra.

Robert Ceglowski spent two years as a peace corps volunteer in Gautemala prior to attending veterinary college. In the Summer of 2003 he returned to Central America through the Expanding Horizons program where he worked with the Agriculture Program of Catholic Relief Services to offer technical outreach and training to smallholder dairy producers in El Salvador. The following summer he completed a program in La Paz, Bolivia.

Craig Lewis worked on diseases of international public health import under the auspices of USDA-APHIS and FOA-Rome.

Hanni Lee has a passion for parasitology and laboratory animal medicine. She spent a summer doing research for Novartis in Switzerland, and completed opportunity blocks at George Washington University and in Michigan.

Kristina Hogg and Brooke Johnson traveled to China to do research on parasites of yak. They did a bit of research and learned a lot about international bureaucracy.

Every one of the graduates of the Class of 2006 has an interesting story to tell. I am confident that they will, in fact, populate every corner of the veterinary profession, that they will do so with distinction, and that they will find professional satisfaction and personal fulfillment in doing so. I look forward to following their professions in the decades ahead.

The Veterinarians' Oath encompasses the breadth of professional activity, and those characteristics of the profession that make it universally admired and loved. The Oath is a relative newcomer to this ancient profession, having been adopted by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1954, at the instigation of a Dr. Quin. It was amended slightly in 1969, and again in 1999.

It is my honor and pleasure to introduce Dr. Wayne Warriner, President of the new York State Veterinary Medical Society and a member of the Cornell DVM Class of 1967, to lead you in the Veterinarians' Oath. Dr. Warriner.