Thursday, the 12th of May
At one o’clock in the afternoon
UVI Sports and Fitness Center
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Friday, the 13th of May
At one o’clock in the afternoon
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
To attend all persons must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a valid negative COVID-19 test taken 24 hours prior to commencement. Attendees are strongly encouraged to wear face masks.
It is such an honor to welcome you to the University’s Commencement Ceremonies for 2022. This is
the first in-person Commencement Ceremony the University has convened since 2019. The COVID-19
pandemic changed this important annual ritual and milestone in a dramatic manner. The University
was able to adapt to this challenge and convened very engaging and meaningful virtual
ceremonies. Yet, certain intangible aspects and values were absent. I missed the pomp and
circumstances, the bright array of regalia and the electricity of excitement in the air. I also
missed shaking the hands of each graduate, handing them their degrees, and witnessing the smiles
and joy etched on their faces. Fortunately, this year all those moments will return.
I want to thank our graduates of the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 for their understanding and resilience. They missed out on these precious moments mentioned above, but they did not lose their joy or their achievements. The University applauds them again for their determination and dedication.
However, this year belongs to the resilient, inspiring, and proud Class of 2022. Their perseverance has paid off and they now stand at the edge of their new life as a college graduate. They have endured two years of COVID-19 challenges and restrictions, and some were also affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Despite these forces, today they celebrate this momentous achievement with their families and friends.
We are honored to welcome Dr. Robert Franklin, former President of Morehouse College and Emory University's Distinguished Professor of Divinity, as our keynote speaker this year. He is an eminent scholar, academic leader, and theologian who spent a portion of his sabbatical with us at the University and delivered the keynote address on our 60th Charter Day Anniversary.
Though we all hope that COVID-19 is behind us, we are using these Commencement Ceremonies to also recognize various leaders who guided us through this maze on a local and national level. Commissioner Justa “Tita” Encarnacion and her team at the V.I. Department of Health provided critical leadership, advice, and service to the Territory throughout this pandemic. Virgin Islanders were tested, vaccinated, and supported earlier than other communities in the nation, and certainly in the Caribbean. The University partnered with the Department of Health on numerous occasions throughout this crisis and we benefitted greatly from this partnership. On the national level, Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith was selected co-chair of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board and chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in the Administration. Her leadership helped ensured that a comprehensive plan and strategy could be developed to curb the rising and deadly incidences of this disease in the United States and the world. Though there were challenging moments with various variants since the creation of the Task Force, the nation is benefiting today from her leadership and insights along with those of so many other leaders and individuals. It is inspiring to have a Virgin Islander chosen for this important and lifesaving role.
Commencement is never the end, but just a new beginning. As our graduates launch the next stage of their careers, I am confident they will contribute greatly to their families, community, and the world. They have not only been prepared at a high level, but they have also overcome numerous obstacles. We would never wish for these challenges in their lives, but these forces have made them stronger, more resilient and determined individuals. They are the leaders that life and this institution have fashioned for the future.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire University Community, we commend the Class of 2022 on your accomplishments and wish you Godspeed. The University is extremely proud of you and look forward to celebrating with you. We encourage you to remain engaged with your alma mater, and remember that you will always be ambassadors for the University of the Virgin Islands.
It is with a divine joy and personal pride that I welcome everyone to these Commencement Ceremonies and wish nothing but blessings for these celebrations and our collective futures.
Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr. is the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral
Emory University (Atlanta). He is a Senior Advisor to the President of Emory University.
In 2013, he was a Visiting Scholar in Residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. He is president emeritus of Morehouse College where he served as the tenth president of the nation’s largest private, four-year liberal arts college for men from 2007 through 2012.
Franklin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Morehouse in 1975 with a degree in political science and religion, and earned an M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School (1978). Franklin continued his education at the University of Chicago, earning a PhD in ethics and society, and religion and the social sciences in 1985. He also undertook international study at the University of Durham, UK, as a 1973 Merrill Scholar and English Speaking Union Scholar. His major fields of study included social ethics, psychology and African American religion. He is the recipient of honorary degrees from Bethune Cookman University, Bates College, University of New England, Centre College, Hampden Sydney College and Swarthmore College, Ursinus College and Washington and Jefferson College.
Franklin is the author of four books: Moral Leadership: Integrity, Courage, Imagination (forthcoming 2020, Orbis Press); Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities (2007); Another Day’s Journey: Black Churches Confronting the American Crisis (1997); and Liberating Visions: Human Fulfillment and Social Justice in African American Thought (1990). He has co-authored (Don S. Browning, et. al.) a volume titled, From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate (2001). He also penned the foreword to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Letter from Birmingham Jail, reprinted by Trinity Forum in 2012.
Franklin worked with three U.S. Presidents on various initiatives (President Clinton’s “One America” Initiative; President Bush’s “Faith Based Advisory Committee”; and President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative).
He is a board member of the Centers for Disease Control Foundation, and the Princeton Theological Seminary.
Active in a range of organizations, Franklin has served on the boards of the Human Rights Campaign, the Atlanta Falcons Community Advisory Board, the National Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, the CNN Dialogues Advisory Committee, and NASA’s 100-year Starship Project Advisory Board directed by former astronaut and high school classmate, Dr. Mae Jemison. He also served on the boards of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Public Broadcasting of Atlanta, and Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Kappa Boule). He is also a member of the Downtown Atlanta Rotary Club; 100 Black Men of Atlanta; the 1999 class of Leadership Atlanta; the Leadership and Sustainability Institute Working Group (of the Open Society Foundation); and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. He has served on the boards of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education (ARCHE); the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce; the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Executive Committee); the White House HBCU Capital Financing Advisory Board; the Atlanta Business League. In 2000, Mayor Campbell appointed him co-chair of Atlanta 2000, the city’s official coordinating committee for Y2K activities and celebrations. And, in 2019, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms invited him to serve on the Mayor’s Task Force for the Promotion of Public Trust.
Franklin is married to Cheryl Goffney Franklin, MD, an OB-GYN physician who earned degrees at Stanford University (B.A.), Columbia University School of Public Health (MPH) and Harvard Medical School (MD). He is the father of three children and two grandchildren.
Justa E. Encarnacion, affectionately known as “Tita,” is no stranger to the U.S. Virgin Islands nor to healthcare. A St. Croix native, Commissioner Encarnacion began her career in healthcare at the Charles Harwood Memorial Hospital as a volunteer in the Nursing Education Department at the mere age of 14-years-old. This experience set the stage for her career as a healthcare professional. She currently serves as Commissioner for the Virgin Islands Department of Health and Chief Public Health Officer.
During her time at Charles Harwood Memorial Hospital, her interest in pediatric nursing blossomed. She continued her career in Cleveland, Ohio at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Her two beautiful and bright children, Bobby and Stephanie Thompson, were also born in Cleveland.
She received her Associate of Science in Nursing from the then College of the Virgin Islands. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Barry University and received her Master of Business Administration in Health Care Management from the University of Phoenix.
Commissioner Encarnacion is a pediatric nurse by trade.
She has over 30 years of experience in healthcare with 15 years of experience leading staff in inpatient and outpatient settings. Encarnacion has served in a number of capacities in both the private and public sectors, leading a number of projects. She was the first Health Services Supervisor and assisted with opening the first health center on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix at the University of the Virgin Islands. As the Health Services Supervisor, she also hosted various campus-led youth symposiums focused on women’s health issues and served as part-time faculty. Other roles held include Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, Vice President of Out-Patient Services, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Chief Nursing Officer at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFL). She also collaborated with other leaders on improving the quality indicators of the Dialysis and Inpatient units and assisted in successfully regaining full Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) certification in both areas of the JFL hospital. Commissioner Encarnacion also served as Clinical Advisor at Case Western Reserve University Francis Payne Bolton School of Nursing. She has developed policies, implemented process improvement initiatives, headed transitions, and conducted strategic planning.
On January 22, 2019, Encarnacion was appointed by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. as the Commissioner Nominee for the Virgin Islands Department of Health and sworn into the position on June 16, of the same year. This position required a shift in focus from in-patient care to public health service. Her experience with the in-patient arena, and work with outpatient agencies at the University of the Virgin Islands and medical group practices prepared her for the role as the lead Virgin Islands, Public Health Official. She comes with a strong regulatory background and is committed to improving health care in the Territory and as a result, implemented the Division of Regulatory Services in the Department. In March of 2020, Commissioner Encarnacion was also designated as the Incident Commander to lead the mission to protect the U.S. Virgin Islands public’s health during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Commissioner Encarnacion embraces and respects the responsibility of her appointment. She believes in community and collaboration and that community begins with public health.
Commissioner Encarnacion holds team building as a means for success. She utilizes the nursing process as her basis for process improvement, as she is convinced that it can be matched with any process improvement methodologies in creating sustainable changes.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS. is the C.N.H Long Professor of Internal Medicine, Public
and Management; Inaugural Associate Dean for Health Equity Research; Founding Director of the
Research and Innovation Center (ERIC); Director of the Center for Research Engagement (CRE);
Associate Cancer Center Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at Yale Cancer Center;
Health Equity Officer at Smilow Cancer Hospital; Deputy Director for Health Equity Research and
Workforce Development at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation; Core Faculty in the
Clinician Scholars Program; Research Faculty in the Global Health Leadership Initiative;
the Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership; and Co-Director of the Doris
Duke Clinical Research Fellowship.
Dr. Nunez-Smith’s research focuses on promoting health and healthcare equity for structurally marginalized populations with an emphasis on centering community engagement, supporting healthcare workforce diversity and development, developing patient reported measurements of healthcare quality, and identifying regional strategies to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases. Dr. Nunez-Smith has extensive expertise in examining the effects of social and structural determinants of health, systemic influences contributing to health disparities, health equity improvement, and community-academic partnered scholarship. In addition to this extensive experience in primary data collection, management, and analysis, ERIC has institutional expertise in qualitative and mixed methods, population health, and medical informatics.
She is the principal investigator on many NIH and foundation-funded research projects, including an NIH/NCI-funded project to develop a tool to assess patient reported experiences of discrimination in healthcare. She has conducted an investigation of the promotion and retention of diversity in academic medical school faculty and has published numerous articles on the experiences of minority students and faculty. Funded by NIH/NIMHD, she established the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network (ECHORN), a research collaborative across four Eastern Caribbean islands, supporting several chronic disease research projects and enhancing health outcomes research and leadership capacity in the region; the flagship ECHORN Cohort Study recruited and is following a community-dwelling adult cohort (n=3000) to examine novel chronic disease risk and protective factors. She recently received NIH/NHLBI funding to build upon this work by recruiting children into an expanded intergenerational ECHORN cohort, inclusive of a biorepository. She is also PI on one of five NIH/NIMHD-funded Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers on Health Disparities focused on Precision Medicine, which leverages the ECHORN infrastructure to conduct collaborative research on hypertension and diabetes.
Most recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shed national attention on the health and healthcare disparities of marginalized populations, she was called upon to serve on the Governor’s ReOpen CT Advisory Group and to chair its Community Committee. She served as an Advisor to the Biden-Harris campaign, and subsequently named co-chair of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board and will serve as chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in the administration. She also received NIH funding to leverage ECHORN to improve the COVID-19 testing cascade in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Dr. Nunez-Smith has mentored dozens of trainees since completing fellowship and has received numerous awards for teaching and mentoring. She is board certified in internal medicine, having completed residency training at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowship at the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, where she also received a Masters in Health Sciences. Originally from the US Virgin Islands, she attended Jefferson Medical College, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, and she earned a BA in Biological Anthropology and Psychology at Swarthmore College.