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[June 1,2009]

SUNY Downstate Holds Commencement Ceremonies Honoring Leaders in Medicine and Health Education:

Speakers' Theme Is Maximizing a Lifetime of Service in Healthcare and Science


Wayne Joseph Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, president of Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest private, historically Black school for health professionals, and Peggy Strecker Neufeld, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, a leading authority on naturally occurring retirement communities, were the speakers at commencement ceremonies for graduates of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Ceremonies were held May 26 at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

Drs. Neufeld and Riley both urged graduates to maximize their potential in their chosen fields of medicine, nursing, allied health, public health, and science.   

Dr. Riley is a leader in medical education, known also for his role in helping to shape national health policy. He received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree before addressing the graduates of the College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and Graduate Program in Public Health in an afternoon ceremony.

In his remarks, Dr. Riley pointed to the musical legends who performed in Carnegie Hall, from Isaac Stern and Benny Goodman to Marian Anderson and Duke Ellington, and asked the graduates to reflect on how these musical giants left legacies larger than life. He urged the new physicians, scientists, and public health practitioners to make decisions that will earn them the respect of the nation.

At the same ceremony, honorary doctor of science degrees also were awarded to Downstate’s own Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Hugh J. Carroll, MD, and to Tom F. Lue, MD, one of the most respected names in urology.

The commencement ceremony for graduates of the Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions honored Dr. Neufeld with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in recognition of her contributions to occupational therapy and her work on behalf of people with disabling conditions. Dr. Neufeld, a former chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at SUNY Downstate’s College of Health Related Professions, created the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s acclaimed Gateway to Wellness Program.

During the evening ceremony, Dr. Neufeld advised the graduating students to look for what is most important in the lives of their patients in order to improve their partnership with them. She also told the graduates to seek out others who share the same interests and passions in order to be part of something larger than themselves.  


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a Graduate Public Health Program, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.