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Representative Niki Tsongas Delivers Keynote at 2016 NECO Commencement

On Sunday, May 15, 2016, the New England College of Optometry held its 122nd Commencement Ceremony at the John Hancock Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. Participating in the ceremony were Class of 1966 alumni, as well as NECO Board members, faculty, and leadership. During the ceremony, NECO conferred 123 Doctor of Optometry degrees to students in the four-year OD program, the Accelerated Optometric Degree Program (AODP), and the Advanced Standing International Program (ASIP). Five students were awarded the Masters of Science Degree, and one student received a Bachelor of Science in Optometry degree.

After a processional led by Barry Kran, OD, and Nicole Quinn, OD, President Clifford Scott welcomed the Class of 2016. “Today, you become part of our alumni and you will make us proud,” noted President Scott. He recognized the faculty, staff, and families of the graduates for their support and guidance during the past few years.  

Following an invocation delivered by Reverend Nancy S. Taylor, welcome and congratulatory messages were delivered by Brian S. Klinger, OD, Chair of the Board of Trustees, David Mills, OD ’80, Executive Directors of Clinical Operations at New England Eye, and Bill Gleason, OD ’74, President of the Alumni Association.

Speakers throughout the ceremony offered insights from their own experience and thoughtful advice for students.  “It’s never just a clinical exam,” noted Dr. Mills. “The application of those skills of listening and developing compassion will truly earn you the title of doctor that you are receiving today.” 

President Scott and Dr. Klinger presented Representative Niki Tsongas, US House of Representatives, and Dr. Kenneth Myers, Director Emeritus, Optometry Service, US Department of Veteran’s Affairs with Honorary Degrees from the College.  Honorary degrees are awarded to recognize individual achievements in the profession and contributions to the community at large.  Both recipients have contributed through their public service, advocacy efforts, and commitment to serving the needs of the community.

Representative Tsongas represents Massachusetts Third District and has had a lifelong commitment to public service. She thanked the Class of 2016 for pursuing a profession that “makes a real difference in the people’s lives” and shared stories of her own experiences with optometry, beginning as a four-year-old receiving her first pair of glasses.

Representative Niki Tsongas delivering keynote address.

“I have an enduring gratitude for the cutting-edge care I have been fortunate to receive by extraordinary eye care specialists,” Tsongas explained. “Those of us with compromised eyesight know just how much we rely upon our vision and your profession to accomplish routine to specialized tasks, to experience the beauty of the world, to see the faces of our loved ones, to read for knowledge or pleasure, and to watch a sporting event.  The blessings of vision are manifold and never to be taken for granted.”

Representative Tsongas noted the shift in demographics in optometry, pointing out that the graduating class included 72% women.  “Diversity in the workplace changes that workplace. Each profession that receives a full and diverse representation from across society becomes a better profession.”

As a U.S. Representative, Tsongas has been very involved in supporting innovation and technology and stressed the importance of both research and new technologies to the collective understanding of the eye, noting the benefit of work being done at the College.

“Innovation does not take place in a vacuum,” explained Representative Tsongas. “One discovery here can lead to another advance there which sparks a revolutionary development somewhere else.  You are now equipped to continue that chain reaction in the world of eye care.” 

“It is my hope and challenge to you that you engage as a catalyst for change in your lives but also in the lives of individuals, your patients,” stated Tsongas at the end of the keynote. “You are the future change makers and we are counting on you.  May you exercise this great opportunity with passion, intelligence, decency, and a commitment to the common good.”

Dr. Kenneth Myers and Dr. David Miller sit on stage after receiving their honors.

Following the keynote, the second honorary degree recipient, Dr. Kenneth Myers, addressed the group. A member of the first class of AODP students at NECO in 1974, Dr. Myers has a long and strong relationship with the college. He was awarded the Presidential Medal previously for his work furthering the clinical education of optometry students, originating optometric residency programs, and developing medical optometry.

Dr. Myers was the first director of optometric programs for the Veteran’s Administration and was instrumental in bringing optometry into the VA medical centers. He worked tirelessly to develop the program and worked with optometric colleges across the country to create clinical experiences at the VA medical centers for optometric students. This work eventually led him to create the first residency program. “I started the residency because I saw a future for specialization,” noted Dr. Myers, encouraging all the graduates to consider pursuing this opportunity.   

Dr. Myers encouraged the Class of 2016 to be agile and to think for themselves. “The old world of optometry is changing rapidly and this school has given you an excellent preparation because it has rotated you through a lot of diverse settings and increasing numbers of you are serving residencies after you receive your OD degree.”

Dr. David Miller, ophthalmologist, was presented with the Presidential Medal for his pioneering work and research.  One of his first projects was to work with Drs. Clifford Scott, Bill Gleason, and Paul White from New England College of Optometry to test a prototype of oxygen-permeable contact lenses material which is now the standard of rigid permeable lenses. He has worked collaboratively with optometrists and ophthalmologists to develop innovative surgical techniques, technologies such as the 3D TV-operating microscope, and optometric products for patients such as a corneal inlay for presbyopia.

Valedictorians pose with President Scott.Kaylyn Marie Cummings and Mackenzie Anne Egan shared the title of Valedictorian for the class of 2016, receiving the same exact grade point average.   Cummings' interest in optometry stems from her childhood experience of being fit with glasses around age six, and having an annual eye exam thereafter. Introduced to the medical field through her studies at WPI, she realized she wanted to have direct patient interaction rather than be behind the scenes designing medical devices.   Egan chose to study optometry when she was in college. “As an undergraduate, I volunteered at a hospice and became drawn to improving the quality of life.” After job-shadowing with different optometrists, she knew a career in optometry would ideally combine this newfound passion and her interest in science.

Both valedictorians noted the extraordinary set of events that occurred during their four years and impacted their personal and professional lives. Their four years included the Boston Marathon bombing in their first year, the World Series win of the Boston Red Sox in their second year, and the snowiest winter on record for Boston in their third year.

Dr. Cummings noted, “These things have shaped us into the well-rounded caring clinicians we are today.” She went on to discuss the impact of the Boston Marathon bombings on the rest of their studies. “We learned the power of caring and our perspective on patient care changed that day. We took the lessons learned from that event and made our clinical encounters just a little more personal.”

Dr. Egan noted the unique and supportive personality of the Class of 2016. “You are the reason my experience at NECO was so special,” she began.  “Our class has a remarkable bond. We are always helping each other. Even though our time at NECO is over as students, I know we will continue to support each other as we enter the profession.” 

Commencement concluded with the conferring of hoods by Drs. William Sleight and Tim Bossie and diplomas by Dr. Scott and Student Council President Cayla Bergstrom, Class of 2017.  Kristen Griebel, OD ’97, led the new doctors in the Optometric Oath before the recessional. A light reception followed for the graduates and their families.

The Class of 2016

Class of 2016 pose for formal photo.

Class of 1966 Fiftieth Reunion

The following students in the Class of 2016 were honored with awards: 

Personal Achievement Awards

  • Dr. Hyman R. Kamens Award (demonstrated leadership and commitment to others in the field) Élise Berthiaume
  • F. Dow Smith Award (leadership abilities in the profession) Alexandra Sexton
  • Dr. Edward Joseph Troendle, Jr. Award (classmember who has given highly of herself to the college and profession) Alexandra Sexton

Academic Awards

  • Valedictory & Beta Sigma Kappa Medal (highest cumulative GPA)  Kaylyn Marie Cummings & Mackenzie Anne Egan
  • Salutatorian Award (second highest cumulative GPA) Rebecca Moran
  • Advanced Standing International Program Scholastic Achievement Award  (highest cumulative GPA in Advanced Standing International Program)  Gerard Cairns
  • William R. Baldwin Scholastic Achievement Award (highest cumulative GPA in the Advanced Optometric Degree Program)  Lin Guo

Scholarship Awards

  • Alumni Association Scholarship Kayla Brenden
  • Beider Moral Obligation Scholarship  Mackenzie Anne Egan, Kathryn Hannis, April Johnson, Shelsea Kriling, Rebecca Moran
  • Israel and Sylvia Grossman Scholarship Kathleen Maloney
  • Monthe N. Kofos Scholarship Diana Li
  • Vision Service Plan Scholarship Kathryn Hannis and Danielle Goldberg
  • VOSH One Award Kayla Brenden and Lisa Lach
  • Ned S. Witkin Leadership in Low Vision Award Abby Raposo

Faculty Awards

  • Foster Namias Award (superior teaching, outstanding service to students, and is highly knowledgeable in his/her field) William Sleight, OD ‘82
  • Carroll Martus Clinical Award (excellence in clinical teaching, outstanding service) Timothy Bossie, OD ‘l2

Clinical Awards

Contact Lens

  • Alcon Award (outstanding expertise in contact lens)  Sathyasri Narasimhan
  • GP Clinical Excellence Award (enthusiastic about GP lens design and materials)  Boris Severinsky
  • American Optometric Foundation Award of Excellence in Contact Lens (excellence in contact lens patient care) Maria Denietolis

Outstanding Clinical Performance

  • Class of 1969 Scholarship Award (outstanding clinical performance) Kristen Kerber
  • Marchon Eyewear Practice Management Award (outstanding clinical and dispensing skills in practice management) Kimberly Uy
  • New England College of Optometry Clinic Award (superior knowledge and competence in patient care) Melanie Hennenfent


  • Ira Schwartz Behavioral Vision Award (excellence in pediatric optometry) Kathryn Hannis
  • Good-Lite Equipment Award (academic and clinical achievement in pediatric optometry) Kristen Kerber

Low Vision

  • Eschenbach Award for Excellence in Low Vision (aptitude and interest in low vision)  Sarah Tanveer
  • William Feinbloom Low Vision Award (outstanding achievement in low vision) Amanda Willette
  • OPTELEC Low Vision Award  (excellence in low vision) Richard Chin