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May 17, 2016 10:07 AM EDT

University Of Notre Dame: Dr. Rita Colwell Addresses The Notre Dame Graduate Class Of 2016!

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Dr. Rita Colwell, a renowned molecular microbiologist whose research revolve around global infectious diseases, health and water recently address the new grads of Notre Dame, sharing her story and letting them in on a secret of how they can change the world for better.

While addressing members of the Notre Dame graduate class of 2016 recently, Dr. Colwell was accompanied by students' family, friends, staff, and faculty, Dean Carlson, Provost Burish and Father Jenkins. She was participating in the 84th Graduate School commencement.

Dr. Colwell noted that despite having participated in several commencement ceremonies, she is always pleased to see the excitement, joy and pride of new graduates and their families. Noting that this marks the beginning of the next step in their careers, Dr. Colwell congratulated the graduates and their loved ones.

"This is a proud moment in all of your lives," she said.

Referring to Graduate School of the University Of Notre Dame and the students, Dr. Colwell said both have come far.

The Graduate School that started with just two Ph. D. and 14 master's degree programs when it was founded in 1932, has evolved to the impressive 26 doctoral, 11 masters as well as four professional master's programs - the one from which the students she was addressing were graduating that day.

Dr. Colwell noted that neither she nor the students are the same as they were when they entered Graduate School. Further adding that the world has changed as well, she pointed to events such as mass shootings in the U.S., typhoons, earthquakes, child abductions in Nigeria, Ebola and Zika outbreaks. Dr. Colwell said those years were difficult for the world.

However, there have been signs of hope as well - China landing on the moon, U.S. landing on Mars, renewed U.S.-Cuba relations and election of Pope Francis.


She noted that the new graduates are now stepping out into a wonderful world that needs them, but making a difference won't be an easy task as they'd face truly global challenges in their journey.

Talking about the world she emerged from, Dr. Colwell said being a graduate student back in the 60s was full of challenges, particularly because women in science were comparatively rare.

In fact, citing chemistry as an unsuitable career for women, her science teacher advised her not to opt for major in chemistry in college. But that wasn't all, Dr. Colwell said she was denied a graduate fellowship for the reason that it would be "wasted on a woman."

She kept going on despite all rejections and as a result, Dr. Colwell emerged as one of the first scientists to develop software to analyse bacteriological data and was the first to write a program that identified marine bacteria.

Dr. Colwell's success story didn't stop there.

Her computational tools that facilitate the study biology play an important role in establishing the field of bioinformatics, which is a crucial aspect of scientific research today. Back in 1998, she was appointed as director of the NSF by President Clinton.

Basically, she came a long way from the young lady who was denied her fellowship, reports Notre Dame News.

The objective behind sharing her story with the new graduates was simply to make them realize how far they can go with their passion, their Notre Dame education and the degrees they have earned.

With advancement in advances in molecular biology, mathematics, physics and fundamental chemistry human health and medicine have hugely benefited. 

As a "world neighborhood" encompassing seven billion people, where most of them are underprivileged, even the poorest of the poor still maintains hope for the future.

Finally, Dr. Colwell reminded the new graduates to remember the lesson they learned at Notre Dame as one of those lesson could turn out to be the most enduring. However, this may take several years, and when they look back on their university days, Dr. Colwell said they will be surprised which lessons turned out to be most important.

She noted that the journey of learning and changing the world to become better is lifelong, and that journey requires them to be curious, studious, compassionate and also committed.

"Enjoy this day with all your heart and soul. You have earned it." Dr. Colwell concluded.

Colwell received a doctor of science honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame's 171st University Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 15.

© 2017 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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