Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health who may be best known for leading the Human Genome Project (HGP), was the featured speaker – and a featured singer – during SMU’s 102nd all-University Commencement ceremony, which took place May 20, 2017 in Moody Coliseum.
“You need to be prepared for dramatic change,” Collins told the graduates. “Whatever the field, you can’t imagine what it will look like in 10 or 20 years Your path will not always be smooth. Doors you were counting on may not open. Do you have the strength & foundation to deal with that?”
Dr. Collins – whose own personal research efforts led to the isolation of the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome – received the Doctor of Science degree, honoris causa, from SMU during the ceremony.
Also receiving honorary degrees Saturday were Francis Halzen, Nancy Nasher and E.P. Sanders. Halzen’s work in particle physics detection has taken the study of neutrinos beyond the Milky Way galaxy and into deep space, leading to new understanding of astronomical phenomena including black holes, supernovas and galaxy formation. Nasher, a business leader, lawyer and philanthropist, has dedicated her professional and personal life to the betterment of Dallas. Sanders is an internationally respected New Testament scholar responsible for major contributions to studies of Jesus and the Apostle Paul and their relationships to the Judaism of their day. He is credited with prompting the re-evaluation of prejudicial views of Judaism that often characterized earlier biblical scholarship, resulting in improved Jewish-Christian relations.
“Never be so confident in yourself that you can’t see what’s around you. Be a skeptic,” Collins said. “Clarify your definition of success. You’ve succeeded, but at what? What is it we’re attaching ourselves to? Are you spending your time on ‘résumé virtues’ or ‘eulogy virtues’? Résumé virtues won’t help you with relationships. They may distract you from thinking deeply about character, about life & its meaning.”
Collins concluded his Commencement address with a song, which brought the graduates, faculty and family members to their feet.