May 4, 2021

47th commencement address to be given by NYS Assemblymember Paulin

SUNY Optometry 2021 commencement speaker, honorary degree recipients (L-R): Amy Paulin, Damon Tweedy, Constance Cepko.
SUNY Optometry 2021 commencement speaker, honorary degree recipients (L-R): Amy Paulin, Damon Tweedy, Constance Cepko.

New York, NY— Marking 50 years of scholarship and service this year, the State University of New York College of Optometry will recognize two distinguished professionals who have made lasting contributions in their respective fields with honorary degrees during the College’s 2021 commencement ceremony on May 20th. 

Honorees include New York Times bestselling author and physician Damon Tweedy, MD, who will receive Doctor of Humane Letters, and Harvard-based developmental biologist and geneticist, Constance (Connie) Cepko, PhD, who will be presented with the Honorary Doctor of Science degree. They will be among 93 SUNY Optometry graduates who will receive their degrees during a hybrid ceremony featuring pre-recorded elements and a live stream of presenters, including a keynote address from 88th New York State District Assemblymember Amy Paulin. 

Ranked among the state’s most successful lawmakers focusing on public policy and community issues, Assemblymember Paulin currently chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporation, Authorities and Commissions and serves on the Committees on Rules, Education, and Health. She has been a long-time advocate of the optometric profession and sponsor of legislation that will expand the scope of care to allow optometrists to prescribe oral medications to patients. 

“We are honored to have Assemblymember Paulin as our commencement speaker as we celebrate this milestone moment in a traditional yet modified approach to ensure the health and safety of our graduates and the entire community,” said College President David A. Heath, OD, EdM. “The individual contributions of Drs. Tweedy and Cepko have led to a better understanding of the critical social and scientific implications that shape health professional education, practice, and patient care. Their collective work and that of Assemblymember Paulin reflects our values as an institution. We are proud to recognize and welcome them to our College community.”

Dr. Tweedy is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and a staff psychiatrist at the Durham VA in North Carolina. He is the author of Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine, a critically acclaimed memoir released in 2015 that examines the complex ways both Black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. It is a topic that resonates deeply within the SUNY College of Optometry community in rising to the challenge of addressing disparities in patient care and student recruitment. In November 2020, the College President’s Task Force on Race and Equity was honored to host Dr. Tweedy as the keynote speaker of the first Community Book Club discussion highlighting his powerful story. Dr. Tweedy is a graduate of Duke University Medical School and Yale Law School.

Dr. Cepko is co-director of the Leder Human Biology and Translational Medicine Program at Harvard University and former head of Harvard Medical School’s PhD Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, where she also serves as Bullard Professor of Genetics and Professor of Ophthalmology. Her ground-breaking research has advanced understanding of the development of the central nervous system (CNS), including paving the way toward the diagnosis and treatment of retinal diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.  A Howard Hughes Investigator and author of over 230 peer-reviewed publications, Dr. Cepko has earned distinguished honors for her work ranging from induction to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 to receiving a Leading Women Award in 2003, presented by the Patriots’ Trail Girl Scout Council in Boston. Dr. Cepko was also one of 17 women elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002. She trained in virology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she earned her PhD and later at the MIT Whitehead Institute.

The SUNY Board of Trustees votes and grants approval for all honorary degree recipients. For more information about SUNY College of Optometry and its 50 years of health care and history, visit

May 4, 2021

Organization contact: Adrienne Stoller,, 212-938-5600


About SUNY Optometry
Founded in 1971 and located in New York City, the State University of New York College of Optometry is a leader in education, research, and patient care, offering the Doctor of Optometry degree as well as MS and PhD degrees in vision science. The College conducts a robust program of basic, translational and clinical research and has 65 affiliated clinical training sites as well as an on-site clinic, the University Eye Center.  SUNY Optometry is regionally accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools; its four-year professional degree program and residency programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association. All classrooms, research facilities and the University Eye Center, which is one of the largest optometric outpatient facilities in the nation, are located on 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. To learn more about SUNY Optometry, visit