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VCU grads urged to turn adversity into strength

Leah Martin | 5/18/2019, 6 a.m.
This year’s graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University have redefined the American dream, university President Michael Rao told a packed audience ...

“We all face adversity,” Mr. Florance said. “Adversity can set you back or it can be channeled as a source of strength and motivation. Your choice.”

He said one teacher in particular, Gordon H. Clem, the late headmaster of Saint Thomas Choir School, made all the difference in his life.

“Do not wait. Today is an exceptionally good day to thank someone who has changed the trajectory of your life,” he told the VCU graduates.

“The vast majority of great melodies are yet to be played, the majority of great paintings have yet to be painted, the majority of great companies have yet to be founded, and the most powerful ideas have yet to be imagined,” Mr. Florance told the graduates. “I captured a new idea that no one had thought of, and each of you still have exactly the same opportunity.”

Mr. Florance was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the ceremony, recognizing his contributions to society through scholarship, humanitarianism, science, art and public service.

Additionally, Sarah S. Izabel, a native of Brazil and member of the VCU Class of 2020, received the 2019 VCU Board of Visitors Award, which is given to an undergraduate student who represents academic achievement, leadership and service to the university and community.

Miss Izabel, who is pursuing a double major in biology and psychology with the intent of earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience, is the mother of a young son and has used the challenges she has faced as opportunities to demonstrate determination, officials said. The honors student has received a research award from the National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program and serves as VCU’s representative to the State Council for Higher Education.

As this year’s recipient, Miss Izabel will receive a one-year scholarship in the amount equal to in-state tuition and fees.

The university’s Edward A. Wayne Medal, which honors those who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary services to VCU, was awarded to William “Bill” and Marsha C. Ginther and Paul A. Gross.

The Ginthers also serve on the steering committee for the university’s “Make It Real Campaign.”

Mr. Gross, a professor emeritus and former executive-in-residence in the VCU College of Health Professions, had a 30-year career in health administration that was capped by his work as president of the hospital division of Humana Inc. His philanthropic efforts for the university for more than 30 years include establishing the Paul A. Gross Distinguished Leadership Lecture series and the Paul A. and Veronica H. Gross Achievement in Nursing Award with his wife, Veronica.

The Presidential Medallion, which recognizes extraordinary achievement in learning and commitment to the mission of VCU, was awarded to Dr. Francis L. Macrina, whose career at VCU has spanned more than 45 years. He was founding director of the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research and a former interim director of the Massey Cancer Center. He also served as the university’s vice president for research and innovation from 2005 to 2018.