Ceremony Speakers

Rutgers University–Camden commencement ceremonies took place on Wednesday, May 18 and Thursday, May 19, 2016. Below are biographies of honorary degree recipients and keynote speakers.

Raymond Ackerman

School of Business

Raymond Ackerman is a visionary South African businessman who stood up to his nation’s repressive apartheid government. He currently is the retired chair of the international retail establishment Pick n Pay, a highly regarded retailer employing more than 50,000 people in more than 1,000 stores across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, and Lesotho.

In 1967, Mr. Ackerman left an established retailing firm in Cape Town and started a retail corporation with the purchase of four small shops. Under his leadership, Pick n Pay grew rapidly and in the 1970s branched into “hypermarkets” that offered one-stop shopping to South Africans.

Under Mr. Ackerman’s leadership, Pick n Pay has played a valuable role in the economic and social development of South Africa over the last five decades. Pick n Pay is a strong brand because of its high-quality food, clothing, pharmacy, and general merchandise offerings and also because of the genuine commitment of Mr. Ackerman and his family to make life better for customers, employees, and the communities in which Pick n Pay stores are located.

By the 1970s, Mr. Ackerman and his wife, Wendy, along with their four children, established their first philanthropy, the Ackerman Family Educational Trust, by donating two percent of their personal shares to the foundation. Dividends from those shares were then allocated to fund various educational causes. Recipients of the Ackerman Family Educational Trust include roughly 60 students each year, who receive scholarships for tertiary education, and educational organizations such as the READ Educational Trust and institutions for mentally and physically disabled people. He is also committed to charitable initiatives through the Raymond and Wendy Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation and the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development at the University of Cape Town.

Among his achievements, he has received a Rhodes University Honorary Doctor of Law degree, the Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Rotary International, the Indian Academy of South Africa Award for Outstanding Business Leadership for Commitment to Improving the Quality of Life in South Africa, the Lions Clubs International Melvin Jones Fellow Award in recognition of dedicated humanitarian services, the University of Cape Town Honorary Doctor of Economic Science, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution Award for Corporate Citizenship, and the University of Kwazulu-Natal Honorary Doctorate of Commerce. He has been recognized by the Financial Times (Great Britain) as one of the world’s top 100 most-respected businessmen.

Suzanne Ackerman-Berman 

School of Business

Suzanne Ackerman-Berman is the transformation director of Pick n Pay, an international retail establishment based in South Africa. During her 20 years with Pick n Pay, Ms. Ackerman-Berman has worked in various positions, from floor management and buying to general manager of corporate affairs and social responsibility. Before joining the family business, she received extensive training in supermarkets in France and the United Kingdom.

In 2007, she founded the Pick n Pay Small Business Incubator, which seeks to address the social and economic inequalities of the past created by the apartheid era by providing access to the formal market for small and previously disadvantaged entrepreneurs. A passionate proponent for equality, job creation, and skills development, Ms. Ackerman-Berman assists many new entrepreneurs in all aspects of business and life skills through a detailed mentorship program that ensures their sustainability as suppliers to the broader economy.

She has held various roles, including chair of the Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation, board member of the SMILE Foundation, joint chair/founding member of the SA Friends of Israel Museum, and board member of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Among her achievements, she is a fellow of the First Movers Program of the Aspen Institute, an honorary member of the Golden Key Association, and a recipient of the Louis Volks Humanitarian Award from the Lions Club. Along with Raymond Ackerman, she is co-author of A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel: Key Principles to Build Your Business. She received a B.A. in French and politics from the University of Cape Town.

The Honorable Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina

Rutgers Law School

Justice Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina was nominated to the Supreme Court of New Jersey by Gov. Chris Christie on Sept. 30, 2013 and was sworn into office on Nov. 19, 2013 following confirmation by the New Jersey State Senate.

Born on Feb. 15, 1952 in Santiago, Cuba, Justice Fernandez-Vina was appointed to the Superior Court bench by then-Gov. James E. McGreevey on July 16, 2004. Judge Fernandez-Vina first sat in the civil division of the Camden Vicinage. He moved to the family division in 2006 and was named presiding judge of the civil division on Feb. 1, 2007. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner named him assignment judge of the Camden Vicinage on Jan. 11, 2012.

A graduate of Widener University and Rutgers Law School at Camden, Justice Fernandez-Vina served as a law clerk to Superior Court Judge E. Stevenson Fluharty before going into private practice. He became a certified civil trial attorney and has served on the District IV Ethics Committee, the Supreme Court Committee on Character and the Supreme Court Committee on Jury Selection. While on the bench, Justice Fernandez-Vina has served on a number of committees, including the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Supreme Court Civil Practice Committee.

Wallena Gould

School of Nursing

Wallena Gould, EdD, CRNA is the founder of the nonprofit organization Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program and is chief nurse anesthetist at Main Line Endoscopy Centers in Pennsylvania. Dr. Gould mentors underrepresented minority registered nurses to successfully matriculate into nurse anesthesia programs across the country. For the last 10 years, she has made great strides in increasing minority enrollment in 54 out of 114 graduate nurse anesthesia programs. As a result, over 400 certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) who participated in her program were accepted and graduated from their respective programs.

In 2015, Dr. Gould was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. She is the first nurse anesthetist of color, and one of only 25 CRNAs, to have been selected into this elite organization of 2,000 nursing professionals. She serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for Minority Nurse magazine and is lead consultant for a $1-million HRSA Workforce Diversity grant for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga nurse anesthesia program. Dr. Gould recently fulfilled her role as chair of the Diversity Task Force for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

She graduated from the nurse anesthesia program at La Salle University in 2004 and was inducted as a member of Sigma Theta Tau National Honor Society. In 1994, she graduated from Rowan College at Gloucester County nursing program. As a single mother and Educational Opportunity Fund student, she received her B.S. in accounting from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1990.

Lisa Ciaranca Kaplan

Faculty of arts and sciences

Lisa Ciaranca Kaplan is the proud principal of the Andrew Jackson School, a neighborhood community school in Philadelphia with a very diverse and vibrant population, inclusive of 29 cultures and 14 different languages.

Ms. Kaplan has been involved in education development for 30 years, focusing on effective teaching, special education, college-to-career readiness, English as a second language, positive behavior support, and promoting community volunteerism and partnerships in public schools. She is the author of “Access to the Core Curriculum, Strategies Guide to Effective Teaching” and has trained teachers, principals, and school staff on special education supports and services and inclusionary practices.

Her secret weapon is people power, and Ms. Kaplan has been able to build an unparalleled network of partnerships that are eager and willing to partner with Jackson School. Under her leadership, the school has grown from an underperforming school with a decreasing population, to the vibrant, growing, high-achieving school that it is.

In 2015, Ms. Kaplan received the Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education (known as the "best principal in the nation" award) from The Best Schools. She is the recipent of the Columbus Forum Award for Administrator of the Year, the Lindback Award for Distinguished Principal Award, and the ING Unsung Heroes Award.

She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees from Temple University. She earned her principal certification from Cheyney University and studied French at the Sorbonne.

Sister Mary Scullion

Rutgers Law School

Sister Mary Scullion has been involved in service work and advocacy for homeless and mentally ill persons since 1978. She was a co-founder, in 1985, of Woman of Hope, which provides permanent residential and support services for homeless, mentally ill women. In 1988, she founded the first Outreach Coordination Center in the nation, an innovative program coordinating private and public agencies doing outreach to chronically homeless persons living on the street.

In 1989, Sr. Mary and Joan Dawson McConnon co-founded Project HOME, a nationally recognized organization that provides supportive housing, employment, education, and health care to enable chronically homeless and low-income persons to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Under their leadership, Project HOME has grown from an emergency winter shelter to over 700 units of housing and three businesses that provide employment to formerly homeless persons. Project HOME also prevents homelessness in a low-income neighborhood in North Philadelphia. This initiative includes economic development, homeownership for the working poor, and the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, a 38,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art technology center that offers comprehensive educational and occupational programming.

In 2015, Project HOME opened the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, which is a model for integrated health care, including primary care, behavioral health, dental, a YMCA, pharmacy, and wellness services. It serves those that are homeless and is located in the second poorest zip code in Philadelphia. Sr. Mary is also a powerful voice on political issues affecting homelessness and mentally ill persons. Her advocacy efforts resulted in the right of homeless persons to vote as well as a landmark federal court decision that affects the fair housing rights of persons with disabilities.

Sr. Mary has received numerous honorary doctorates for her leadership in the city of Philadelphia. She was named 2011 Citizen of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer and selected by Time magazine as one of the “World’s Most Influential People in 2009.” In addition, Sr. Mary and Ms. McConnon received the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame in 2011. She was awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship in 2002 as well as the Distinguished Alumnus Eisenhower Award in 2010.

She serves on the Board of Trustees of St. Joseph’s University and the Board of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. She also chaired the Hunger and Homelessness Committee for Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia in 2015. A member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy in Merion, Pa., since 1972, she received her B.A. in psychology from St. Joseph’s University in 1976 and her M.S.W. from Temple University in 1986.