Fordham University presented John L. Damonti, M.S.W. (GSS ’85), president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, with a doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa, at the Graduate School of Social Service diploma ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall on May 22.
Damonti, who joined the New York City-based pharmaceutical giant in 1991 and has been president of its foundation since 1993, recounted some of his experiences leading an initiative known as Secure the Future, one of the largest corporate commitments of its kind to address the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
He told the graduates that as social workers and social service professionals they will likely come “face-to-face with pain and suffering beyond comprehension.” But their chosen profession, he said, will allow them to change the world for the better, one person at a time.
And Damonti told the graduates that his return to a Fordham graduation ceremony was special for a personal reason.
“I’d like to point out that this ceremony is almost like a second chance for me and my family,” Damonti said. “Twenty-two years ago, when I got my degree (from Fordham), my mother was responsible for taking pictures and when we got home we realized there was no film in the camera.
“So 22 years later, my mother is here …,” he said to a round of applause, “and, fortunately, my wife has the camera.”
Four days before the diploma ceremony, on May 18, GSS celebrated its 90th Anniversary with a special luncheon and a series of panel discussions on the role of social justice, social indicators and poverty, and vulnerable populations of children, women and the elderly. GSS professors Barry Rock, D.S.W., and Yvette Sealy, Ph.D. (GSS ’99), led the discussions. In addition, Peter B. Vaughan, Ph.D., dean of GSS, and Assistant Dean Susan Bair Egan, Ph.D., (GSS ’77, GSS ’04), were honored during the luncheon. Vaughn, who has served as dean of GSS since 2000, received the Mary Anne Quaranta Award for Outstanding Contributions to Children and Families, for his long academic service and his research in enhancing the health, social health and life chances of African-American boys. Egan, a founding member of the GSS Institute for Women and Girls, received the Ralph DeMayo Award.
During a gala reception following the panel discussions, GSS honored two nationally renowned former deans of the school, Mary Ann Quaranta, D.S.W. (GSS ’50), and James Dumpson, Ph.D., senior consultant for New York Community Trust. Quaranta served as the dean of GSS for 25 years, stepping down in October 2000. Dumpson, the first dean of the school, served from 1967 to 1976, and continued on for many years as a member of the faculty. Fordham’s GSS was founded in 1916 and is one of the nation’s oldest schools of social service, with more than 11,000 alumni.