Houston Texans star J.J. Watt and Houston Emergency Medical Services Director Dr. David Persse will receive honorary degrees from Baylor College of Medicine at commencement ceremonies in May. Both played major roles in serving the community after Hurricane Harvey.
Also receiving honorary degrees will be the College’s commencement speaker, Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, and Dr. Alice McPherson, professor of ophthalmology at Baylor and one of the foremost retina specialists in the world.
“Each year for Commencement, we choose a speaker to provide meaningful words to our graduates and we award honorary degrees to those who have made a major impact on the College, our community or academic medicine in general,” said Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor. “Dr. Lefkowitz’s groundbreaking research in cell receptors has been recognized around the globe. Dr. McPherson’s important contributions to science were made right here in Houston, at Baylor, as a retinal specialist.”
“In the year following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the community’s incredible response, it was most fitting to honor two community leaders who contributed in major ways, Dr. Persse and J.J. Watt. Our graduates and their families can take important lessons from all four of these honorary degree recipients,” Klotman said.
Lefkowitz and McPherson will receive a Doctor of Letters in Medicine degree. This degree is awarded to physicians or research scientists who have excelled in medicine through teaching, research or public service and whose acts have brought credit or advancement to Baylor or to the profession of academic medicine.
Lefkowitz, professor of medicine and biochemistry and chemistry at Duke University Medical Center, received the National Medal of Science in 2007 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012. His research has focused on cellular receptors. He has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1976.
McPherson moved to Houston in 1960 to begin practice as the world’s first full-time woman vitreoretinal specialist, establishing herself as one of the pioneers in the field. She founded the retina service at Baylor that same year. In 1969, she founded the Retina Research Foundation in Houston, dedicated to the eradication of retina disease.
Persse, Houston’s public health authority, is responsible for the medical aspects of clinical care, quality management, disease control and public health preparedness. He moved to Houston in 1996 to serve as director of emergency medical services for the city. He is a professor of emergency medicine at Baylor. Baylor physicians worked closely with Persse to meet community medical needs after Harvey.
Watt was drafted in the first round by the Houston Texans in 2011 and has been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. He is president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, a charity organization that provides after-school opportunities for children. Following Hurricane Harvey, Watt raised more than $37 million to support recovery efforts from the storm. Watt was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year along with Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Watt also won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his humanitarian efforts and athletic excellence.
Persse and Watt will receive a Doctor of Humanities in Medicine degree. This degree is awarded by the College to individuals who have provided exceptional support or service directly or indirectly to Baylor or to academic medicine as a whole and to the community at large.