Former U.S. Surgeon General Elders to deliver Bates convocation address

Former U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders will officially open the 148th academic year at Bates College with the convocation address Leadership and Responsibility in the 21st Century: What Will Your Role Be? at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, on the college’s main quadrangle. In case of rain, the event will be held in Alumni Gymnasium.

A pediatric endocrinologist and the first African American to hold the position of Surgeon General of the United States, Elders is an outspoken advocate for the young, the poor and the powerless.  Elders began her college career at the age of 15 when she was awarded a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. The eldest of eight daughters, she never saw a physician before her first year of college. Elders graduated at age 18 and entered the U.S. Army as an officer, where she received training as a physical therapist. She attended the University of Arkansas Medical School on the GI Bill and interned at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Elders completed a pediatric residency and an endocrinology fellowship at UAMS and received board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist. She also earned an M.S. degree in biochemistry. Elders joined the UAMS faculty as a professor of pediatrics in 1978 and, in 1987, was appointed director of the Arkansas Department of Health, where she championed early childhood immunizations and supported school-based clinics to cope with teenage pregnancy.

Confirmed as Surgeon General of the Public Health Service in 1993, she argued for universal health coverage, was a spokesperson for President Clinton’s health reform effort and argued for comprehensive health education, especially sex education in schools.

Elders resigned from her federal post in 1995 and resumed her professional career at UAMS. She retired in 1998. Elders has been active in civic affairs as a member of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Northside YMCA and Youth Homes. She was listed in “100 Outstanding Women of Arkansas,” “Personalities of the South” and “Distinguished Women in America.”  She has won awards that include the Arkansas Democrat’s Woman of the Year, the National Governors Association Distinguished Service Award, the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Award and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Candace Award for Health Science.

Elders has been awarded multiple honorary degrees, including a doctorate of science from Bates College at its May 2002 commencement.

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