Ambassador and Alumnus Harry Thomas ’78 Will Deliver 2016 Commencement Address

Thomas and two other Holy Cross graduates — acclaimed actor Ann Dowd ’78 and pioneering researcher and physician Richard J. O’Reilly, M.D., ’64 — will receive honorary degrees

March 16th, 2016 by 


Harry K. Thomas Jr. ’78

The Honorable Harry K. Thomas Jr. ’78, the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe and recipient of many honors from the State Department during his 32-year diplomatic career, will receive an honorary degree from the College of the Holy Cross and address this year’s graduates during the College’s Commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 27 at 10:30 a.m. at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester.

A witness to and participant in some of the most important global events of the past three decades, Thomas served as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines (2010-2013) and to Bangladesh (2003-05) before his appointment to serve in Zimbabwe in 2015. His earlier posting included service in the U.S. embassies in New Delhi, India; Harare, Zimbabwe; Kaduna, Nigeria; and Lima, Peru. He also served as Executive Secretary of the United States Department of State, Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service, Director of the State Department Operations Center, Director for South Asia on the National Security Council Staff and Special Assistant to the then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In 2013, “in recognition of his invaluable contribution to deepening the relations between the Philippines and the United States,” Thomas received the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Grand Cross, Silver Distinction from the president of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III. The State Department has presented him with multiple awards including for his political reporting in Nigeria; for working to bring the Peace Corps to Zimbabwe; and for his role in the aftermath of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He also received the State Department’s Distinguished Service Award, along with other awards for his leadership, management, and mentoring.

Thomas majored in political science at Holy Cross, and received an M.S. degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University. Immediately before his Zimbabwe post, he was diplomat in residence at Arizona State University.

In addition to Thomas, the College will award honorary degrees to the following individuals at Commencement:

Ann Dowd ’78 was a premed student at Holy Cross, but discovered her passion and life’s work in her acting classes and performing in Fenwick Theatre on campus. After graduation, she continued her study of acting in Chicago and received her MFA from DePaul University. Now living in New York, she has worked steadily as an actor on stage, in film, and on series television for more than 30 years. Yet it has only been in recent years that she has received widespread acclaim, particularly after her 2013 award-winning role in the independent film “Compliance,” for which she received the National Board of Review Award for best supporting actress and shared the Virtuoso Award for break-out performance of the year. Her roles in the prestige cable series “True Detective” and “The Leftovers” have also been acclaimed. Her many film roles include work in “Philadelphia,” “Garden State,” “Marley & Me,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Side Effects.” In 1993 she received the Clarence Derwent Award for her Broadway debut performance in the play “Candida” starring Mary Steenburgen. She also received three Joseph Jefferson Awards for excellence in Chicago theater (“The Normal Heart” in 1987, “Kennedy’s Children” in 1984 and “A Different Moon” in 1983).

She has served on the board of LearningSpring School, a New York City school for children on the autism spectrum in grades K-8. She also teaches in the acting program at CAP21 (Collaborative Arts Project 21), a New York City professional musical theatre training conservatory and Off-Broadway theatre company.

Richard J. O’Reilly, M.D., ’64 is a world-renowned pioneer in the development of bone marrow transplantation techniques as a lifesaving treatment of bone marrow deficiencies, leukemia, and other blood disorders. He was the first to conduct a successful bone marrow transplant involving an unrelated, compatible donor — an approach now used successfully on well over 2,500 cancer patients annually. In addition, he co-developed an approach now used throughout the world to effectively treat children born without immune systems. In the 1970s and 1980s, such children were known as “bubble babies” and typically died within a year. O’Reilly developed a transplant method that allows for all these children to receive a curative transplant from a half-matched parent or sibling. More recently, he introduced the application of immune cells obtained from healthy donors for treatment of life-threatening virus infections in transplant patients, an approach now being widely explored.

After studying biology at Holy Cross, O’Reilly received his medical degree from the University of Rochester and continued his training in pediatrics with a medical internship at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and a pediatric residency and fellowship in infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital/Beth Israel in Boston. He joined the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 1973 and now holds the position of Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics as well as the Claire L. Tow Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research. Widely published, he has been honored by the American Society for Clinical Oncology and received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, among other honors.

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