via Salve Regina University

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, Distinguished President’s Fellow for Global Development at Purdue University and the retired president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, will offer pre-recorded commencement remarks when Salve Regina University celebrates its 71st commencement, staged in three separate ceremonies on Sunday, May 9, beginning at 10 a.m. beneath the oceanside tent at McAuley Hall.  

Dr. Kelli J. Armstrong, Salve Regina president, will personally award diplomas to members of the graduating Class of 2021, as each of the ceremonies will blend both in-person traditions with pre-packaged elements, all of which will be livestreamed. Woo will also be presented an honorary doctorate, along with two longtime local community advocates, Ruth Barge Thumbtzen and David Brodsky. 

On Thursday, May 6, graduate commencement will be held beneath the tent at 3 p.m. Board-certified family nurse practitioner Olivia Krampen, a frontline urgent caregiver at The Perlman Clinic who also assists with COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing through Aya Healthcare for the University of California San Diego Crisis Response, will present the keynote. Krampen earned both her B.S. and M.S. degrees in nursing from Salve Regina and will receive her D.N.P. during Thursday’s ceremony. 

And on May 16, members of the graduating Class of 2020 will be welcomed back to campus for an in-person ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Their commencement was staged virtually last May as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Kathy Behrens, president of Social Responsibility and Player Programs for the National Basketball Association, will present a pre-recorded commencement address and be awarded an honorary degree, along with local philanthropist Donald Christ and Civil Rights Movement hero Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr. Elements of the ceremony will be both pre-recorded and “live.” 

“I’m so grateful that we can celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates in person this year,” Armstrong said. “Although there are limitations due to the pandemic, we will be able to see our students walk across campus in their caps and gowns and hand them their hard-won degrees. I’m also incredibly proud of how all members of this Mercy community – faculty, staff and students – worked so hard to keep one another safe throughout the year. These Commencement celebrations are a wonderful representation of all of those above-and-beyond efforts and demonstrate what makes a Salve Regina education so special.” 

The Sunday, May 9 events will begin with a commencement and pinning ceremony for nursing recipients at 10 a.m., followed by commencement for B.A.S. and B.A. degree recipients at 1 p.m., and commencement for non-nursing B.S. degree recipients at 4 p.m. 

Carolyn Woo (Class of 2021 commencement speaker) 

Carolyn Woo

Woo served a five-year term (2012-2017) as president and CEO for Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, following a long and distinguished academic career. She was one of five presenters in Rome at the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment in June 2015. Her faith journey and work at CRS are recounted in her book, “Working for a Better World,” published in 2015 by Our Sunday Visitor.  

She was featured in the May/June 2013 issue of Foreign Policy as one of the 500 Most Powerful people on the planet and one of only 33 in the category of “a force for good.” Carolyn’s Catholic News Service monthly column took first place in the 2013 Catholic Press Association Awards in the category of Best Regular Column—Spiritual Life.  

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Woo immigrated to the U.S. to attend Purdue University, where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, joined the faculty and later served as associate executive vice president for academic affairs. She has also served as dean at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. 

Olivia Krampen (Class of 2021 graduate commencement speaker) 

Olivia Krampen

Krampen is a family nurse practitioner at The Perlman Clinic in San Diego. She received her B.S. in nursing from Salve Regina in 2016 and worked as an RN at Yale New Haven Hospital while studying to become a nurse practitioner. She graduated with a M.S. in nursing from Salve in 2019, specializing as a family nurse practitioner, and will receive her D.N.P. degree from Salve in May 2021. She is board certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 

Prior to joining Perlman Clinic, she worked in the medical weight loss and preventive medicine setting where she gained great appreciation for health literacy and health management through lifestyle modification. Most recently, she continues to work in the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial supporting Operation Warp Speed. 

Ruth Barge Thumbtzen (Class of 2021 honorary degree recipient) 

Thumbtzen worked as an educator in the Newport school district for 30 years, where she taught physical education and health. Later, she served for a decade at Salve Regina as a community liaison, helping to build community partnerships and service learning opportunities for Salve students.  

Throughout her career and into retirement, Thumbtzen always found time to make a difference in the community. Organizations she has served include Newport Hospital, the Newport Art Museum, Freedom Housing, Inc. and the Salvation Army. She has been honored for her community service with the Newport Daily News 2016 Community Service Award, with the Newport County Community Mental Health Center’s Board of Directors Award, by the Rogers High School Annual Black History Month Assembly, and by the Woman’s Resource Center as a “Wild Woman of Newport County.” She has served on the boards of various organizations including as president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center Board and vice president of the Newport Public Library Board. 

David Brodsky (Class of 2021 honorary degree recipient) 

Brodsky, the founder and former chairman & CEO of Rhode Island-based Superior Healthcare Group, has devoted decades to supporting philanthropic causes across the U.S. with a focus on higher education, preservation, the arts and health care, among others. He has been a longtime neighbor, friend and major supporter of Salve Regina. 

In 2016, Brodsky gifted Salve Regina 50 percent of Honeysuckle Lodge, LLC, the trust into which his Ruggles Avenue residence was placed. His children hold the remaining 50 percent.  

Upon sale of the home, the proceeds will fund the David and Carolyn Brodsky Chair in United States Heritage and Culture, a fund to ensure that, through an interdisciplinary approach, undergraduate students at Salve learn of the opportunities and freedoms made possible by the founding of the United States. 

Kathy Behrens (Class of 2020 commencement speaker) 

Kathy Behrens

Behrens oversees all NBA programs that coordinate league and player social responsibility efforts, promote youth basketball development, support player growth and education, and enhance the marketing opportunities for current and former players. She joined the NBA in 2000 when she took charge of the NBA’s public service initiatives, community outreach and employee volunteer programs. 

Prior to joining the NBA, Behrens served as executive director of New York Cares, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes volunteers to help New York City’s neediest residents. She previously served in the administration of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and was the executive director of the Friends of Cuomo Campaign Committee during the 1994 governor’s race. 

Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr. (Class of 2021 honorary degree recipient) 

A Civil Rights Movement hero and nonviolence activist for more than 50 years, LaFayette was a co-founder and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Nashville Sit-ins, a courageous Freedom Rider, an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and national coordinator of the Poor People’s Campaign. An ordained minister, professor, educator, lecturer, he is recognized nationally and around the world as an authority on the strategy on nonviolent social change. 

He became the first director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, leading education and training programs in Kingian Nonviolence on state, national and international levels. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and is presently a Scholar in Residence at Auburn University. 

Donald C. Christ (Class of 2021 honorary degree recipient) 

A retired partner of Sullivan & Cromwell, a law firm with offices around the world, Christ is chairman of the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust. A longtime friend and supporter of Salve Regina, he has been instrumental in providing funding, in excess of $4 million over the years, for many of the university’s priority projects. He was a close friend and companion of beloved Salve Regina trustee Noreen Stonor Drexel. 

Grants from the Trust supported the renovation of the National Landmark William Watts Sherman House, the restoration of iron fencing around the O’Hare Academic Building, the endowment of Salve’s Cultural & Historic Preservation Program, and scholarships for nursing and education majors.  

In more than three decades under Christ’s leadership, the Trust has made significant contributions to the health and well-being of Newport residents, as well as the preservation of Aquidneck Island’s history and culture. In 2019 alone, more than $2.5 million was disbursed in grants. Christ has also supported Salve as an unofficial advisor and community partner, and his personally gifts have supported annual scholarships, the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, athletics, and other special projects. He received his B.A. from Yale University and his LL.B. from Yale Law School. 

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