Dr. Mary Bassett To Address SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Class Of 2019 Commencement

May 21, 2019

Former NYC health commissioner Dr. Bassett to deliver keynote. Downstate to honor SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall and other distinguished leaders in medicine and research

BROOKLYN, NY — SUNY Downstate Medical Center will celebrate its commencement on Tuesday, May 21 at 3:30 p.m. at Carnegie Hall. Mary T. Bassett, M.D., MPH, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will deliver the commencement address during the ceremony to more than 400 graduates, families, and friends of SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and the School of Public Health.

SUNY Downstate will also honor SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall with this year’s President’s Award. Appointed to the SUNY Board in 2007, he has served as Chairman since 2011 and recently announced his intention to retire this June.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett will also receive an honorary Doctor of Science for her work on behalf of New York City’s vulnerable populations. Other honorary degree recipients include  Dr. Gerald Whitehead Deas, Dr. Arthur Kaufman, and Dr. Joel S. Levine. 

In a second graduation ceremony scheduled for 7:30 p.m., also at Carnegie Hall, SUNY Downstate alumna Babette Seligmann Sanders will deliver the commencement address for Downstate’s College of Nursing and the College of Health-Related Professions. She will also receive the Ailanthus Award, SUNY Downstate’s highest campus honor, for her service to the discipline of Physical Therapy.

WHAT:  SUNY Downstate Commencement Ceremonies

WHO:   SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall;
SUNY Downstate President Dr. Wayne J. Riley;
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, former NYC Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner

WHEN:  Both ceremonies will take place Tuesday, May 21
3:30 p.m. – College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health
(Dr. Mary Bassett to deliver commencement address)

7:30 p.m. – College of Nursing and College of Health-Related Professions
(Babette Seligmann Sanders to deliver commencement address)

WHERE:  Both ceremonies will take place at Carnegie Hall – 881 7th Ave., New York.

About The Commencement Honorees:

President’s Award Recipient
SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall
Chairman McCall was appointed to SUNY’s Board in 2007 and has served as the Board’s Chairman since 2011. During his tenure, he has overseen the installation of two separate chancellors and more than fifty university and college presidents. Chairman McCall has had an unparalleled career as a public servant. He was first African-American Comptroller of the State of New York from 1993 to 2002, and the first African American to hold state-wide public office. He served three terms as a New York State Senator representing the upper Manhattan district of New York City; as an Ambassador to the United Nations; as a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and as the Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights and President of the New York City Board of Education from 1991 – 1993. Chairman McCall was educated at Dartmouth College, Andover Newton Theological Seminary, and the University of Edinburgh.

Commencement Speaker for Downstate’s College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and the School of Public Health and Honorary Degree Recipient

Doctor of Science: Mary T. Bassett, M.D., MPH 
Dr. Mary T. Bassett is a prominent public health advocate who has dedicated her career to advancing health equity. She is Director of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. As Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014-2018, she was responsible for setting the health agenda for New York City’s 8.2 million residents.

Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Science: Gerald Whitehead Deas, M.D., MPH, MS, ScD (hc), LHD (hc)
Dr. Gerald Deas was the first African American Class President of the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Dr. Deas has dedicated his career to advocating for disadvantaged communities, empowering youth, and fighting for public health.  Dr. Deas holds a master’s degree in Biochemistry from CUNY’s Brooklyn College, an MPH in Industrial Health from the University of Michigan, and honorary degrees from St. John’s University and Metropolitan College of New York. Prior to his retirement from Downstate in 2018, he was Director of Health Education Communications and Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine.

Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Science: Arthur Kaufman, M.D.
Dr. Arthur Kaufman is Vice Chancellor for Community Health at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Distinguished Professor of Family and Community Medicine in its School of Medicine. He is known for creating innovative models to address community, indigent, rural, and population health needs that have had national and international impact. Dr. Kaufman is a 1969 graduate of SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and trained at New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital. 

Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Science: Joel S. Levine, M.D., MACP
Dr. Joel Levine, a SUNY Downstate alumni is Chair Emeritus of the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians (ACP), and played a central role in the authorization of colorectal cancer screening as a Medicare benefit. He currently serves as Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where he was Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs for 19 years and heads the Division of Digestive and Liver Health at Denver Health, Colorado’s primary safety-net system. 

Commencement Speaker for Downstate’s College of Nursing and School of Health-Related Professions and Ailanthus Award Recipient 

Babette Seligmann Sanders, PT, DPT, MS, FAPTA
Dr. Babette Sanders is SUNY Downstate alumna and a Professor and Assistant Chair for Student Affairs in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Her primary area of clinical practice, prior to and in conjunction with her academic position, is acute care physical therapy. She won a Best Manuscript Award from the Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy for her article, “Defining Entry-Level Practice in Acute Care Physical Therapist Practice.”


About SUNY Downstate Medical Center

SUNY Downstate Medical Center is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care, and is a 376-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by the expertise of an outstanding medical school and the research facilities of a world-class academic center. More than 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate's staff.

A regional center for cardiac care, neonatal and high-risk infant services, pediatric dialysis, and transplantation, Downstate also houses a major learning center for children with physical ailments or neurological disorders. In addition to University Hospital, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Health-Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit