UH to Recognize Graduates, Prominent Leaders at Spring Commencement

During this year’s spring commencement, the University of Houston (UH) will celebrate the achievements of its graduating students and honor eight distinguished individuals who have made significant contributions in such diverse disciplines as medicine, technology, higher education and film. 

UH’s commencement weekend, May 10-11, will feature presentations of honorary doctorate degrees and the University’s prestigious President’s Medallion. Honorees include alumnus and former chair of the UH System Board of Regents Welcome W. Wilson Sr., award-winning actor and humanitarian Dennis Quaid and Dr. Edith Irby Jones, the first African-American to enroll and graduate from an all-white medical school in the South.


Welcome Wilson Sr.Welcome W. Wilson Sr., a UH alumnus, served for three years as chair of the UH System Board of Regents. Wilson worked in support of Tier One state funding in his role as co-chair of the statewide Texans for Proposition Four. Wilson serves as chair of the UH Drive to Tier One Campaign. He is chairman of the board of GSL Welcome Group LLC and is a principal in Kingham Dalton Wilson Ltd. Wilson was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2011. Other honors he has received include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Houston Business Journal and the Crusader Award from Neighborhood Centers Inc.

Edith Irby JonesDr. Edith Irby Jones was admitted to the University of Arkansas College of Medicine in 1948, becoming the first African-American to enroll in an all-white medical school in the South. She graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1952. In 1959, she became the first African-American female resident in the Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals. In 1985, she was elected the first female president of the National Medical Association. She is a charter member of Physicians for Human Rights, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. She holds three honorary degrees.

Belle Griggs JohnsonBelle Griggs Johnson, a UH alumna, and her husband, the late Richard J. V. Johnson, created the Belle Griggs Johnson Endowed Book Fund in 1993 to support the UH Libraries. Johnson also is a member of the UH Art Committee. In 2001, she and her husband, then chairman and publisher of the Houston Chronicle, co-chaired the UH Libraries’ capital campaign to raise more than $39 million to expand the M.D. Anderson Library and provide a new home for the Honors College. She is the recipient numerous honors, including the Community Leader Award from the Consular Ladies of Houston.


Harold KohnHarold L. Kohn, Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), is being honored for his stellar achievements in the research of clinical agents, including the discovery of lacosamide (Vimpat®) when he was a chemistry professor at UH. He was on the UH faculty from 1973 to 1999. This first-in-class anti-epileptic drug for the treatment of partial-onset seizures in adults is now marketed in the United States and 35 other countries. Kohn has received numerous awards, including the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship.

Marvin OdumMarvin E. Odum III, president of Shell Oil Company and director of Shell’s Upstream Americas business, is being honored for his ongoing achievements in the energy and business arenas. He is a member of the UH Energy Advisory Board and is a UH alumnus. Odum holds leadership positions on the boards of the Business Roundtable and the American Petroleum Institute. He sits on the executive committee of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the board of directors of the Greater Houston Partnership and on the steering committee of the Energy, Security, Innovation and Sustainability Initiative of The Council on Competitiveness.

Dennis QuaidDennis Quaid, award-winning actor and humanitarian, is being honored for his creative contributions and his work for children’s charities in Austin, New Orleans and Central America. While Quaid was a student at UH in the 1970s, he studied drama under the tutelage of UH legendary drama coach Cecil Pickett. Quaid is a recipient of a 2012 UH Distinguished Alumnus Award. Quaid’s acting honors include the Independent Spirit Award. He has appeared in more than 70 feature films. Quaid stars in the television series “Vegas” and hosts the annual Dennis Quaid Charity Weekend golf tournament, which benefits children’s charities. 

Ron YokubaitisCarolyn YokubaitisRon and Carolyn Yokubaitis, co-founders of Data Foundry Inc., are being honored for entrepreneurial innovation. Data Foundry is one of the largest Usenet services in the world. Ron, a UH alumnus, and his wife developed one of the first 50 Internet service providers in the nation in 1994, when there was a lack of Internet options for users who were not students or government employees. The company serves global subscribers in more than 195 countries. The Yokubaitises founded Giganews in 1998 to address the growing consumer demand for Usenet Newsgroups.

Commencement activities also will include speeches from two outstanding leaders in the medical field as well as UH alumna Brené Brown, research professor at the UH Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) and New York Times best-selling author.

Brown will speak at the GCSW commencement, which takes place at 1 p.m., Friday, May 10 at the Cullen Performance Hall. Earlier that day, Dr. Robert Robbins, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Medical Center, will deliver remarks to pharmacy students. The College of Pharmacy commencement starts at 9 a.m. at Cullen Performance Hall. On Saturday, May 11, Dr. Ronald L. Hopping, president of the American Optometric Association, will serve as guest speaker for the College of Optometry commencement, which begins at 1 p.m. at Cullen Performance Hall.