The University Record, October 11, 1999

Medical School marks 150 years with convocation

By Sally Pobojewski News and Information Services

Former surgeon general Antonia Novello told the convocation audience she was glad the Medical School ‘took a chance on a kid from Puerto Rico,’ because nothing in her professional life has compared with the years she spent at Michigan.
Antonia Novello admits she has come a long way since 1970 when she began her internship in pediatrics at the Medical School. Since then, she has worked at the National Institutes of Health, served as U.S. Surgeon General and is now health commissioner for New York State.

But at the Medical School’s 150th anniversary convocation on Oct. 1, she told hundreds of alumni, faculty and students how grateful she is that the school “took a chance on a kid from Puerto Rico,” because nothing in her professional life has compared with the years she spent at Michigan.

“During my years as an intern and resident here, my mentors never allowed me to forget the people behind the statistics,” she said. “I learned that patients do not care how much I know until they know how much I care.”

Novello was one of nine speakers at the convocation—all of whom spoke with pride and gratitude for fond memories from their years of working, learning and teaching at the Medical School and U-M Hospitals.

“We are here to pay homage to the 150-year legacy entrusted to us,” said Medical School Dean Allen S. Lichter, citing the 91 students who attended the first lecture in the Medical School on Oct. 3, 1850, when Zachary Taylor was president of the United States and medical school tuition was $5. “U-M graduates have helped solve all the great medical mysteries of their era,” Lichter said. “We are part of a fabulous tradition.”

Representing all the patients treated at U-M Hospitals, 29-year-old Erik Morganroth described the 34 days he spent on cardiac life support and the subsequent heart transplant that saved his life.

Neurosurgeon Keith Black said his '12 years at Michigan were the best of my life.' Photos by Paul Jaronski, Photo Services
Renowned neurosurgeon Keith Black represented 18,000 physicians who have received their M.D. degrees from the Medical School since 1851. “My 12 years at Michigan were the best of my life,” he told the audience in Hill Auditorium. “I had the opportunity to conduct meaningful neurological research under the supervision of world class scientists. No matter how high I set my goals, the University always provided opportunities.”

Former U-M president Harold T. Shapiro described the “high-stakes poker game” involved in obtaining political and financial support in the 1980s to replace the 61-year-old Old Main Hospital. Raising $210 million during a time of economic crisis for the state of Michigan to build a new state-of-the-art hospital complex required “courageous action on the part of many individuals,” Shapiro said. “We did it because we believed we were serving a cause larger than any of us.”

President Lee C. Bollinger and Gilbert S. Omenn, executive vice president for medical affairs, represented the current leadership of the University and the Health System. Both spoke of the revolutionary benefits to medicine that will come from recent and future scientific discoveries in the life sciences. “We stand on the threshold of a new set of expectations for medicine,” Bollinger said.

“The coming century will be shaped by biology and the life sciences,” Omenn said. “These new advances will help us achieve our goal of better health for all people everywhere.”