TSRI Celebrates 21st Commencement
Snapshot: Class of 2013
Photo Album: A Day to Remember
The 46 New Graduates



TSRI Celebrates 21st Commencement

By Mika Ono

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) held its 21st commencement on May 17, graduating 46 students—one of its largest classes ever—and awarding an honorary degree to TSRI Professor Paul Schimmel.

After the colorful procession of officials, students and faculty marched across campus to the Auditorium at TSRI, President and CEO Michael Marletta welcomed the graduating students and their mentors, families and supporters to the ceremony. He urged the participants to acknowledge the important support the students had received over the years from family and friends that made this moment possible.

In that spirit, Marletta recognized the contributions of the late philanthropist and entrepreneur L.S. “Sam” Skaggs Jr., who passed away earlier this year. Mr. Skaggs and his wife, Aline W. Skaggs, supported TSRI through the Skaggs family foundation, The ALSAM Foundation, with gifts that exceeded $100 million.

To honor Mr. Skaggs’s commitment to pharmacy and to developing drugs from basic discovery, Marletta announced the institute is establishing the Sam and Aline Skaggs Award for Contributions to Drug Discovery, which will be bestowed on a graduating student beginning next year.

Jamie Williamson, dean of graduate and postgraduate studies, was next at the lectern, inviting the group to celebrate the occasion with “unrestrained enthusiasm” and thanking the many people that contribute to excellence in graduate education at TSRI. “It is no accident that we are ranked in the top 10 graduate programs in the country,” said Williamson, pointing to the research prowess of the TSRI faculty.

U.S. News & World Report ranks TSRI’s Kellogg School program seventh overall in chemistry and seventh overall in the biological sciences, based on a survey of department heads, deans, directors of graduate studies, and other academics in each discipline.

“Fire Lake”

Marletta introduced Schimmel, who is Ernest and Jean Hahn Professor of Molecular Biology and Chemistry at TSRI, as commencement speaker, citing among many accomplishments his work on a class of enzymes known as tRNA synthetases and a separate line of investigation laying the foundation for the human genome project. Marletta also noted that Schimmel is cofounder or founding director of a number of business enterprises that have developed new medicines—which have now helped more than 100,000 people.

In a commencement speech that cited inspiration from figures as diverse as the late TSRI Professor Ernest Beutler, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, musical artist Bob Seger (known for the hit song “Fire Lake,” among others), and legendary Chinese general Xiang Yu, Schimmel warned against following accepted dogma and encouraged graduates to seek their own unique vision and passion.

Schimmel also emphasized that the pursuit of scientific knowledge has an enormous humanitarian impact.

“We have an enterprise here that changes lives,” he said. “Scripps over the last 10 years has [generated] at least six medicines that are actively being used in patients—treating hemophilia, various blood cancers, various types of autoimmune disorders, hereditary amyloidosis and infant respiratory distress syndrome. There are 27 other medicines being tested in humans right now. This is what Scripps is about—changing society.”

Well-Deserved Tributes

After the commencement speech, the graduating students’ advisors stepped up to the lectern to speak about each of the students and his or her accomplishments. Associate Deans Philip Dawson, Velia Fowler and William Roush assisted with the ceremonial hoods while Williamson handed out diplomas.

Forty-three of the graduating students were presented with a PhD degree, which takes an average of five years to complete. Following an initial year of coursework customized to students' individual interests, the Kellogg School program includes rotations through various laboratories and focuses on research. By graduation, each student has written and defended a dissertation that represents a novel contribution to his or her field.

This year, three students who already hold M.D. degrees received diplomas for a two-year masters program in clinical investigation. The program, offered jointly by the Kellogg School and the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI), is tailored for early-career physicians envisioning a career as both clinicians and scientists. Other physician-training programs at TSRI include joint MD-PhD programs with the University of California, San Diego, and Florida Atlantic University.

The advisors’ tributes spoke of the students’ hard work, personal contributions, fellowships, awards, papers, inventions, and patents—as well as of promising futures in industry and academia.

As the applause crescendoed, the ceremony ended and the crowd exited the auditorium, TSRI was 46 alumni, one honorary degree recipient, and many memories richer.

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A colorful procession across campus launched TSRI’s 2013 commencement ceremonies. (Photo by Mark Dastrup.)