by Sarah McLaughlin '23 on April 28, 2023
Providence College has chosen Hill Harper, J.D. to deliver the Commencement Address at PC’s 105th Commencement ceremony, which takes place on Sunday, May 21 at 11 A.M. in the Amica Mutual Pavilion. Harper is an American humanitarian, actor, author, entrepreneur, health and wellness advocate, and philanthropist who has starred in CSI: NY, The Good Doctor, and He Got Game. He has also written four New York Times Bestsellers and the award-winning book The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place, which discusses solutions to the racial wealth gap. Additionally, his book Letters to a Young Brother was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Harper is the recipient of seven NAACP Image Awards.
In addition to his creative accomplishments, Harper founded The Black Wall Street Digital Wallet and App, serves as co-owner of an award-winning New Orleans hotel called International House, and owns a Detroit coffee franchise, The Roasting Plant. Harper is also a dedicated philanthropist. He started the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, which is dedicated to empowering underserved youth, and the Pierce and Hill Harper Arts Foundation.
Harper is a graduate of Brown University, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Harvard Law School. He has also received several honorary doctoral degrees.
Typically, not every honorary degree recipient is a graduate of the College, but this year, all five, aside from Harper, are PC alumni. The first is Monsignor Alex “Bobby” Benson ’97G, who has dedicated much of his over 40 years of service in the priesthood to fighting HIV/AIDS. After completing his Master’s degree, Msgr. Benson established the Matthew Chapter 25 project in Ghana, which supports over 90 people living with HIV/AIDS. He is a teacher of Clinical Pastoral Education and founded the first-ever palliative care center in Ghana in 2021 to offer medical care for patients living with terminal illnesses. Msgr. Benson has demonstrated support for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and he contributed to the achievement of these goals when he collaborated with the late PC Physics professor Dr. Stephen Mecca ’64, ’66G, ’19Hon, in installing microflush valve toilets in Ghana, which save water as well as improving sanitation. Msgr. Benson has also organized and hosted service projects for Maymester trips to Ghana.
Another degree recipient is Charles “Chuck” Borkoski ’71, who worked for 46 years with the major Anheuser-Busch distributor of Southern New England, McLaughlin & Moran. He spent much of that time serving as vice president of marketing and portfolio development. Borkoski has served PC as a member of the College’s Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee (2009-present), president of the Greater Providence Alumni “Mal Brown” Club (1991-92), National Alumni Association President (2005-06), a member of the PC Parents’ Council (2009-2012), and a member of the Providence President’s Council. In 1994, he received the Mal Brown Club Award for Exemplary Dedication and Service to PC, and in 1996, the National Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award. With his wife Leslie Borkoski ’12, he also established a scholarship fund.
Dr. Donna J. Formichella ’78, the next degree recipient, recently retired after working for 33 years with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group as a surgeon. She was the first woman to graduate as a general surgeon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in CA and performed thousands of operations as assistant chief of surgery for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, CA. In addition, she served as chair of the Group’s Cancer Committee and Tumor Board for over 25 years. Dr. Formichella also taught in the residency program at the University of California for three decades, mentoring many young surgeons. She graduated magna cum laude from PC with a Biology degree and from Columbia University with a medical degree in 1982. She then completed a post-graduate residency at Tufts-New England Medical Center. At PC, she was a member of Student Congress and chair of her class Junior Ring Weekend Committee, and she co-chaired her class’ 40th reunion committee with her husband, John Hannen ’78. She is now actively involved in the 45th reunion.
The fourth PC alum to receive an honorary degree is Dr. Sheila Harrity ’87, the extended Campus Coordinator for the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators. In this position, she coordinates the coursework offerings for vocational teacher licensure and Occupational Education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level for two Massachusetts universities. From 2014-2022, Dr. Harrity worked as Superintendent of the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District, the second largest vocational district in MA, serving nearly 1,500 students. She was also the principal of Worcester Technical High School for eight years, and in 2014, she was named MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals National High School Principal of the Year; in 2013, she was named Massachusetts Principal of the Year. In 1997, she was named Worcester Public School Teacher of the Year. During her time at Worcester Tech, the school received the National Blue Ribbon School distinction for outstanding student achievement; this award is given by the US Department of Education. The school hosted President Obama as their commencement speaker in 2014. Dr. Harrity served as vice chair of the MA State Board of Education from 2015-2022 and was recently selected by the MA Association of Vocational Administrators to lead an initiative for helping vocational teachers and administrators earn their degrees and licenses. While at PC, Dr. Harrity played on the Women’s Basketball team.
The final recipient is Robert J. Palmisano ’66, president and CEO of Wright Medical Group, a leading orthopedic device maker. Palmisano is an emeritus member of PC’s Board of Trustees who served on the Board’s Finance and Strategic Planning Committees during his board tenure (2009-2018). Previously, Palmisano was president and CEO of the global endovascular device company ev3, Inc. During his two years with the company, ev3’s market capitalization more than tripled. He also worked as president and CEO of IntraLase Corp., which designs, develops, and manufactures laser products for vision correction. Prior to this, he was president and CEO of MacroChem Corporation, a development stage pharmaceutical corporation, and president and CEO of Summit Autonomous, Inc., a global medical products company. He has also held various executive positions with Bausch & Lomb, Inc., which was a global eye care company.