Logan • L. John Wilkerson, a business leader and philanthropist, invited Utah State University's graduating class Saturday to join him in a fight against poverty.
The keynote speaker at USU's 124th commencement ceremony in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Wilkerson said 1.4 billion humans wake up each day without access to food, water, clothes, medicine, fuel or shelter.
Wilkerson earned a bachelor's degree in biological sciences at USU in 1965, a doctorate at Cornell and worked four years on Wall Street before building a career managing technology companies that advance medical care.
Today, Wilkerson, who serves on the executive committee of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, is determined to "make extreme poverty history in our lifetime." Wilkerson has embraced The Global Poverty Project, a movement organized to change broken and corrupt political systems that keep people poor.
"Extreme poverty robs mothers, fathers and children of dignity and it robs you and me of their creativity, their humanity and their productivity," he said.
One graduate who is likely to appreciate Wilkerson's contributions to medical technology and social justice is Clara Galeano , 45, of Smithfield.
Nearly 30 years ago, Christy Pitcher Benedict, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints medical missionary, found Galeano bedridden in a small village in Paraguay and arranged to bring her to the United States for medical treatment.
Galeano had been diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 3 and, by age 15, joint fusion rendered her immobile. Galeano, who visits relatives in South America every two years, has been a member of Benedict's family ever since.
"She had no movement whatsoever," said Benedict, a surgical nurse from Hyde Park. "Our main purpose was to get her here and get her knees fixed so she could be ambulatory. She's doing much better than we ever anticipated. She's never lost her spirit."
It took 14 surgeries, 15 long years and a streak of stubbornness for Galeano to earn a bachelor's degree in Spanish on Saturday through USU's Languages, Philosophy and Speech Communication Department.
"It's been hard physically," Galeano said. "It is kind-of hard to concentrate with pain. Being stubborn can work for you or against you. I try to make it work for me. It doesn't matter what the circumstances or how big the challenge, there's always a way. I do have good people here in the family and in the school."
Stan L. Albrecht told the graduates that life's challenges offer defining moments. He reflected on such a day during his first year as USU's president when eight students and a faculty member were killed in a van accident. A survivor of the Sept. 26, 2005, crash, Robbie Petersen, also graduated Saturday.
"What we ultimately make of our lives will be determined, in part, by our ability to move past the event," Albrecht said, "and get on with those things that will make our world and the world around us a better place."
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