Assumption Awards 687 Degrees and Certificates at 94th Commencement

Assumption College held its 94th annual Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 14 on the campus’s H.L. Rocheleau Field. Rwandan genocide survivor and author of the New York Times best-seller Left to Tell – Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza delivered the Commencement address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Ilibagiza an international speaker and passionate supporter of human rights, recounted for the class of 2011 the harrowing story of how she was forced into hiding for 91 days in order to escape the 1994 Rwandan genocide that took the lives of her entire family, sustained only by her faith and the heroism of a local pastor who concealed her and seven other women in a cramped bathroom. She described her struggle to move forward after the tragedy until she came to the realization that “The worst question to ask is “Why me, Why did this happen? The best question is ‘What can I do now?” Illibagiza exhorted the graduates to balance their intellects with kindness and morality noting “If we grow our heads but not our hearts, this can damage. But if we do both, we can do great things”.

Assumption awarded 474 Bachelor of Arts degrees, 170 Graduate Studies degrees and certificates and 33 Continuing and Career Education degrees at this year’s Commencement. In addition, Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., D.O. ’74, Thomas Walsh, M.D. ’74 and Susan Woodbury were awarded Honorary Doctorates of Laws for their commitment to service.

Valedictorian Alexandra Orlando encouraged her classmates to challenge themselves intellectually in their everyday lives as well as to “understand at a deeper level and fully examine life’s questions.” She noted the experiences she had shared with her class and how they had strengthened them as both students and people. “Remember that we are always students,” she requested. “We will continue to learn new lessons every day, but our time at Assumption has prepared us to teach, to contribute, and to shape the world in which we live.”

Orlando, who is from Red Hook, NY, is an accounting major with an Italian studies minor. A member of Omicron Delta Kappa (the Leadership Honors Society) and the Honors Program, she has committed herself to serving the college and the community as a tutor in the Academic Support Center, a class senator, a member of the Campus Ministry retreat team, and an orientation leader. After graduation, she plans to become a certified public accountant and work as an audit associate for McGladrey.

Salutatorian Brendan Shea of Newington (CT) introduced the Commencement speaker. A marketing and history major, Brendan received the College’s Departmental Award in marketing and was a founding member of Assumption’s Chapter of the American Marketing Association, Brendan has striven to make a difference in the Worcester community through He has been active in the Reach Out Center, with two years as a service director, mentored first-year students and was a member of the Social Justice Committee. He plans to pursue a career in business.

Also among this year’s graduates was Henry A. Prunier, who graduated from the Assumption Prep in 1940 and went on to attend Assumption College for three years (1940-43) before enlisting to fight in WWII as part of the famous seven-member OSS “Deer Team”.

After the war Henry returned to Assumption, but was soon forced to leave the college to assist with his family business. Unable to complete his coursework, Henry never received an Assumption College degree, something that bothered him his whole life. But when Henry received a long-delayed Bronze Star Medal on February 23, 2011, his story came to the attention of the Assumption College administration and further research into Henry’s records (including his course work at Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts) discovered that he had more than enough credits for a degree. So at age 89, WWII veteran Henry Prunier was awarded his 1946 Assumption College diploma at Saturday’s Commencement.

Honorary Degree recipient biographies:

Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., D.O. ’74 - Honorary Degree - Doctor of Laws

Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., D.O. ’74, is a medical doctor, missionary and director of the NPH St. Damien Hospital in Haiti. Caring for orphans, ransoming hostages, providing medical assistance to children, burying the dead – it’s all in a day’s work for Fr. Frechette, who has served as a Passionist missionary in Haiti for more than 25 years. Fr. Frechette will give the homily at the Baccalaureate Mass on May 13.

Fr. Frechette graduated from Assumption College in 1974 with a degree in mathematics and was ordained a Passionist priest in 1979. After serving as a missionary for many years, he realized that the children of Haiti were in desperate need of medical support. Fr. Frechette came back to the United States and earned a medical degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1998. Along with his missionary duties, he is responsible for the healthcare at the NPH orphanage in Haiti, serving more than 350 children. He is NPH’s regional director of the Caribbean, the national director in Haiti, and a member of the NPH International Health Services Team, which oversees the medical needs of the children in nine countries. St. Damien’s is the country’s premier pediatric hospital and provides long-term care to critically ill children and outpatient services to more than 30,000 patients annually, all free of charge.

Thomas Walsh, M.D. ’74. – Honorary Degree – Doctor of Laws
Thomas Walsh, M.D. ’74, was appointed director, Transplantation-Oncology Infectious Diseases Program and professor of medicine at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College in 2010. He also serves as an assistant attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Prior to that, Dr. Walsh conducted medical research at the National Cancer Institute for 25 years. His research resulted in the strategic diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of life-threatening infections in children with cancer and other immune system issues, dramatically increasing their chances to live. He has helped to train many of the world’s leading experts in the care of children with weakened immune systems who are suffering from serious infections.

He also served as a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, providing medical care to the victims of national disasters until his retirement in 2010. Dr. Walsh graduated from Assumption in 1974 with a degree in biology and earned his M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is board certified in medicine, infectious diseases and oncology.

Susan Woodbury – Honorary Degree – Doctor of Laws
Susan Woodbury is the retiring chair of the board of the George I. Alden Trust, located in Worcester. Woodbury has been actively involved in numerous community organizations and institutions including the Bancroft School, the Junior League of Worcester and the Worcester Historical Museum. She continues to serve as a trustee of Worcester’s EcoTarium and the YWCA.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she began her career at Providence National Bank in Philadelphia and was the youngest female titled officer at the time of her election in 1967. She also served as a paralegal at Bowditch & Dewey from 1987-1993. She was appointed a trustee at the Alden Trust in 1993 and elected chair in 2002. The Trust focuses on supporting capital projects at private, New England colleges and universities with full-time undergraduate enrollments of 1,000-3,000 students.

Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College @AssumptionNews