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Extraordinary Doctoral Graduates

In his address to graduates at the doctoral convocation, President Levine summarized the various dissertation topics and noted the achievements of some of the graduates. One was Joaquin Flores.

Flores came to this country from El Salvador when he was 17 at the beginning of a civil war that ravaged that country. He looked at what effects that war had on the psychological health of the children who experienced its devastation. His commitment to this study stems from his own childhood in El Salvador, a father who was an advocate of peasant rights and an uncle who was a priest who taught social consciousness. Both of those role models risked their lives for what they believed was right. His uncle was assassinated for it. Flores yearned, since then, to give something back to the Salvadoran society.

Flores worked for the New York City Board of Education after receiving a degree in bilingual school psychology and then at the Sydenham outpatient clinic of Harlem Hospital. During his vacations he would return to El Salvador and volunteer his time to communities there that needed his services. He could see what was happening to the children as a result of the war-they were becoming political commodities. Officials told him there were no real problems, and some psychiatrists and researchers told him he should only work with children from one particular political faction.

In 1989, Flores returned to the children of the peasants. His friends donated airline tickets to El Salvador, or they drove him into the remote communities he was studying. The war made collecting the data difficult, so he had to put off his research until peace agreements were signed in 1992.

The conditions Flores had to endure put his health at risk. Some areas had no plumbing and no water. Once, his bottled water was infiltrated by insects.

When he completed collecting the data, a family he had met offered to bring it back to New York for him. One of them intended to use it as his own doctoral research. Flores had to get a lawyer to reclaim what he had struggled so hard to get.

Through the difficulties of his travels and the stress of the entire ordeal, Flores incurred a spinal cord injury that confined him to his house when he returned to the United States. He did the entire analysis, writing, and discussions with his mentor lying in bed, flat on his back. He could not even use his own computer because sitting at a desk was too painful for him.

Eventually, he became strong enough to walk into his living room, and when it came time to defend his dissertation, the committee joined him there to hear his presentation. He was unsure if he would make it to the convocation ceremony, but he did, and was greeted with a standing ovation when President Levine told his story.

Levine also remarked that seven dissertations were awarded with distinction. Ph.D. dissertations are given the designation of distinction when the committee votes unanimously to do so. The dissertation is then reviewed by the Executive Committee of the Graduate School. Normally, no more than 10 percent of all candidates receive that award. Three such awards came out of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology: Marthe Jane Grice, Hawthorne Emory Smith, and Annette Zygmunt. The other four were Pia Rebellow and Tama Leventhal from the Department of Human Development, Lisa Keary from the Department of International and Transcultural Studies, and William Buse of the Department of Scientific Foundations.

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