Special Olympics International CEO Given Honorary Degree during Wegmans School of Nursing Commencement Ceremony

May 6, 2022

The Wegmans School of Nursing at St. John Fisher College conferred baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees on more than 300 graduates during its Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 6. The College also bestowed an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters upon Mary Davis, chief executive officer of Special Olympics International.

Wegmans School of Nursing graduate Abdulhady Homed walks across the stage after receiving his diploma.

As CEO, Davis leads an international team of more than 200 professionals throughout the world who are addressing inactivity, injustice, intolerance, and social isolation for people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics movement currently serves nearly five million athletes with intellectual disabilities, holds more than 94,000 competitions annually, and welcomes more than one million coaches and volunteers who help make grassroots operations possible.

With the establishment of the Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing at Fisher in 2018, the College has strengthened its collaboration with the Special Olympics to address health disparities that exist for individuals with developmental disabilities. In fall 2021, Special Olympics International awarded the Institute with an Inclusive Health Innovation grant to create the first-of-its-kind curriculum for primary care nurse practitioner residency programs aimed at improving the health care experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Provost Kevin Railey presents Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, with an honorary degree.

During the ceremony, Davis discussed the role of nurses and mental health counselors as both learners and influencers, imparting knowledge upon patients, but also learning from each interaction.

“While we are here to celebrate the important milestone of graduation, this is truly a beginning of a rich and rewarding career where you will continue learning every single day,” said Davis. “Just as you are the ‘eyes and ears’ of entire health systems, you are the health innovators of the future. You are the advocate for marginalized people. You are the managers of tomorrow’s health care. You are the next health policymakers. Never underestimate your power and influence.”

The ceremony also included the presentation of this year’s Graduate Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence, which was given to Dr. Heather McGrane Minton, assistant professor in the Wegmans School of Nursing, director of the Master of Public Health and chair of the undergraduate public health program and proud Fisher alumna.

In a letter nominating McGrane Minton for the award, a student described her as “strict, assertive, kind, helpful, compassionate and most importantly, humble and respectful toward people with different cultural backgrounds. She welcomes diversity which motivates and promotes hard work for success.” Another student wrote that McGrane Minton’s enthusiasm for her areas of expertise show in her lectures and the project she assigns students. “She has made the learning environment positive, inclusive, and welcoming,” the student wrote.  “I’m so happy to have had a professor like her to keep my light for learning burning,” wrote another.

Rosalyn Ruckert, a graduate of the School’s Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program, delivered remarks on behalf of the graduates.

“It is an honor to represent the many talented and accomplished graduates we are celebrating today. Together we found a way to flourish through our programs amidst some of the most challenging moments that many of us have experienced in our lifetimes,” she said. “To have chosen to remain dedicated to not only our educations but our professions and our patients during a pandemic, racial and political crises, and countless other world-wide calamities, and to bravely continue on our paths onto the frontlines, underscores an ever-growing embodiment of the spirit of caregiving.”