Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright both received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letter degree at the 38th Commencement of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) in Worcester on June 5, 2011. When presenting their diplomas, Chancellor Mike Collins noted the global nature of Autism Speaks saying “the mission of Autism Speaks is being heard around the world.” He also shared that UMMS has participated in Autism Speaks Light it Up Blue campaign for the past two years.
Also receiving honorary degrees were Donna Shalala and Arthur Pappas, M.D. Shalala, who gave the commencement address, is the president of the University of Miami, the first woman to lead a Big Ten university and the longest-serving Secretary of Health and Human Services in U.S. history. Dr. Pappas is considered the first UMMS surgeon and through his talent transformed the lives of countless children as well as served as the medical director for the Boston Red Sox.
The commencement was especially poignant because the graduates are all embarking on careers in medicine – to help individuals and families struggling with diseases, disorders and illness. Among the degree recipients could be the hope for the future of autism research, treatment or diagnosis. President Shalala may have put it best when she presented challenges to the 2011 graduates on several issues “It’s not a disease that you’re interacting with, but a person, and that person isn’t a case, or a claim, or a subject, but an individual with a heart and a soul.”
See some press coverage of the event here:
Worcester Telegram and Gazette
UMass Medical graduates hear messages of compassion
Autism Speaks Co-Founders Bob and Suzanne Wright Receive Honorary Degrees at Saint Joseph’s University
Autism Speaks Co-Founders Bob and Suzanne Wright received Honorary Degrees at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 14. The Wrights were recognized for their professional accomplishments, particularly, the vision and leadership in founding and building Autism Speaks – North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. SJU awarded honorary degrees to Bob and Suzanne in recognition of their selfless dedication to, and for, others.
During their time on the SJU campus the Wrights visited the university’s new Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. The mission of the Center is to provide multi-disciplinary education and research opportunities for students, teachers, professionals, and parents who seek to improve and extend opportunities, outcomes, quality of life and best practices in treatment for people withAutism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The Center offers services, resources, and information; support and guidance; and tools for public and individual advocacy that contributes to improved autism awareness and care. Additionally, students who minor in autism education receive hands-on training at the facility.
Here are photos from the Kinney Center and the Graduation Exercises
To read the Wright’s 2011 St. Joseph’s University Commencement Address, please click here.
On Monday April 11th Suzanne and Bob Wright, Founders of Autism Speaks, were interviewed by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in recognition of April as the nation’s month for autism awareness. Key points discussed – funding for research and adults with autism.
On Wednesday, April 6, Autism Speaks joined the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the U.N. and the U.N. Department of Public Information at the United Nations to present Solving the Autism Public Health Puzzle: Regional and International Collaboration, a panel discussion on autism. The United States Mission to the U.N. also co-sponsored the event, which was streamed live on the U.N. website. (Watch archived video of the whole event here or view it below).
United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon opened the event talking about the U.N.’s commitment to raising autism awareness and creating greater acceptance. “This day is a call to action for all of us who want a more compassionate and inclusive world,” said the Secretary-General. “We have to raise funds to turn workable solutions into practical actions.”
He was followed by Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and Mr. Fredrick D. Barton, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. Suzanne and Bob Wright also addressed the several hundred dignitaries and families affected by autism in attendance. They updated the audience on Autism Speaks successful Light It Up Blue Campaign, where 1400 buildings turned blue in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day. A video recapping all of the Light It Up Blue activities ran just before the Wrights’ presentation. Suzanne Wright commented on a new collaboration with the U.N. “Through these kinds of meetings, we are making tremendous headway to increased awareness. This translates to innovative research, improved services and better treatments for families.”
The international coalition in attendance represented a wide array of countries. The participation of the some of the world’s top dignitaries demonstrated a striking endorsement of global efforts to raise autism awareness. Members of the audience, which included Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the U.N. Secretary-General, took part in an interactive panel discussion on autism moderated by Russ Mitchell, CBS Weekend Evening News and CBS Saturday Early Show Anchor. Panelists included Professor Saima Wazed Hossain, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Autism in Bangladesh; Shekhar Saxena, M.D., Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization; Amy Gravino, Asperger’s Syndrome College Coach and Self-Advocate and Geri Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer. The panelists discussed an international pathway to raise global awareness and promote research into this non-discriminative disorder. Amy Gravino was particularly poignant sharing her personal struggles with autism, but concluded her story with a message of hope that visibly resounded with audience members, “It is my wish that individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome all across the world will know their own strengths – the skills, the abilities and things they’re capable of, rather than the things they’re not capable of.”
The event was an amazing show of support for the global autism community and a promise of a longstanding partnership.
The Intrepid played host this morning to a press conference and family event for those affected by autism. Children from Pelham Middle School joined children with autism from schools around NYC and N.J. to celebrate WAAD on April 2. Owen Saunders, a student at Pelham Middle School, created the song Light It Up Blue and got his classmates to sing it. Autism Speaks recorded the kids singing the song and created a video that has gone viral around the world! The father of a child with autism in Argentina translated the song into Spanish and it is being sung in Spain and Argentina to celebrate WAAD today.
The students sang their heart-warming song today to an audience that included guest speakers Suzanne and Bob Wright – who were joined by the children and grandchildren, Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), and the president of the Intrepid Susan Marenoff-Zausner. They received a standing ovation at the conclusion of their performance. Plus visit the Pix 11 blog to see the students’ performance from April 1.
Guests and Intrepid visitors were also able to try out Autism Speaks brand new interactive awareness ad created by BBDO with the Ad Council. The display invites people to try to make eye contact with a young girl on the screen to demonstrate an early warning sign of autism.
The autism community came together to urge President Obama and his staff to light the White House blue as a symbol and statement to the world about autism. While we still have hope that it will happen one day, we took matters into our own hands this Saturday, April 2, 2011.
Over one hundred Autism Speaks supporters gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to commemorate the fourth annual World Autism Awareness Day and to light it blue with their presence, hope and love for the community.
“We are gathered here today to help shine a light on autism,” said Jayne Tobin, whose sister and brother-in-law, Suzanne and Bob Wright, founded Autism Speaks in 2005. “The children gathered here with their families, just like my grandnephew, represent the fastest growing developmental disability in the world. It is imperative that our government and the world take action against autism.”
Rebecca Grazel, a student at George Washington University, took dozens of pictures of the blue-clad volunteers. “By telling those who were in the dark about this empowering day and the disorder itself, we are ensuring that others will spread the word. What is a bigger sign of awareness and support than showing up in the hub of our nation’s capital, wearing blue, and documenting this momentous occasion of countless others doing the same? I am so happy to be a part of it.”
On April 1, Autism Speaks volunteers and supporters went the Empire State Building to flip the ceremonial switch to turn the building’s lights blue for the second year in a row. Bob and Suzanne Wright greeted the crowd and spoke about the over 1000 buildings around the world that are turning blue tonight in celebration of the fourth annual World Autism Awareness Day. They were joined by Emil Jensen Perez, a young man with autism who asked the Empire State Building to light blue for autism in 2008. Emil’s family are top walkers in the Westchester Walk Now for Autism Speaks. In addition, Grammy Award-winning singer and mother of a 9 year old boy with autism Toni Braxton greeted the crowd and shared her story of when her son was diagnosed.
Congratulations to the amazing walkers who came out for the 10th annual Palm Beach County Walk Now for Autism Speaks on Sunday. The event was a huge success with over 5,000 people joining Autism Speaks’ Co-Founders Bob and Suzanne Wright to raise awareness and funds for autism research. Thanks to the dedication and support of the walkers an estimated $300,000 was raised. For more on this year’s Palm Beach Walk, check out the great media coverage from the day.
This is a guest post by Autism Speaks Board Member Gary Mayerson. Mayerson is the founder of Mayerson & Associates, the first and only law practice in the nation dedicated to representing children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.
From its very inception, Autism Speaks has recognized the importance of family support, and the role of the extended family. Indeed, Autism Speaks was founded by two highly motivated grandparents, Bob and Suzanne Wright.
On February 15, 2011, approximately 150 Boynton Beach grandparents attended a luncheon fundraiser for Autism Speaks, raising more than $10,000 in the process. They came to listen to Autism Speaks Board Member Gary Mayerson speak about the epidemic-like statistics, and the many ways in which Autism Speaks is addressing the problem.
We wish to thank everyone who attended and, in particular, the following committee members who organized this worthy event: Gerri Ackerman, Elaine Baranoff, Luba Ditkowitch, Ellen Feller, Harriet Fried, Carolyn Holland, Shirley Meltzer, Mara Lee Nozetz, Rita Rosen, Patty Rosenfeld, Phyllis Spieler, Dee Silverman, Ruth Schwartz, Renee Telsey and Sylvia Zeidman (Gary Mayerson’s mother in law).