Hill Harper

Hill Harper to give Providence College 105th commencement address

Providence College (PC) announced today that American actor, author, and humanitarian Hill Harper, J.D. will present the Commencement Address at the College’s 105th Commencement exercises. The ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 21 at 11:00 a.m. at the Amica Mutual Pavilion in downtown Providence.

The College will award honorary degrees to six individuals at the May 21st ceremonies. In addition to Harper, they are: Monsignor Alex “Bobby” Benson, ‘97G, who has done yeoman’s work in ministering to HIV-positive and AIDS patients in Ghana, West Africa for decades; Chuck Borkoski ’71, a retired beverage industry business executive and ever-present alumni volunteer; Dr. Donna Formichella ’78, a pioneering surgeon; Dr. Sheila Harrity, former MA school principal and superintendent who was National Principal of the Year in 2014; and Robert Palmisano,’66, PC trustee emeritus and a retired business executive in the medical products/devices industry.

A separate ceremony for graduate students and graduates of the School of Continuing Education will take place on Friday, May 19 at 6:00 p.m. in the Peterson Recreation Center on the PC campus. Dr. Harrity will be the featured speaker at that ceremony.

Hill Harper is a humanitarian, actor, author, entrepreneur, health and wellness advocate, and philanthropist. He has starred in numerous TV and film projects, including CSI: NY, The Good Doctor, and He Got Game. Harper has written four NY Times Best Sellers and an award-winning book, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place, which addresses ways to solve the racial wealth gap. He has been recognized with seven NAACP Image Awards, four of them for his writing. His Letters to a Young Brother was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association.

Harper is founder and chairman of The Black Wall Street Digital Wallet and App; co-owner of an award-winning New Orleans hotel, International House; and has a thriving coffee franchise in Detroit called The Roasting Plant. Among his many civic and philanthropic endeavors, Harper started the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering underserved youth, and has established the Pierce and Hill Harper Arts Foundation.

Harper holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, a law degree from Harvard Law School, and a master’s degree with honors from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has received several honorary doctoral degrees.

Additional Honorees

Monsignor Alex “Bobby” Benson ‘97G has dedicated much of his 40+ years of priestly service to the fight against HIV/AIDS. After completing his Master’s degree from PC in 1997, Msgr. Benson returned to Ghana in West Africa to create the Matthew Chapter 25 project, which directly minsters to people living with HIV/AIDS. That project, started with nine HIV patients, currently serves over 90 people, and is now being expanded to include a hospice component.  A renowned teacher of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), Msgr. Benson founded the first-ever palliative care center in Ghana in 2021 to offer medical care for individuals living with HIV and other terminally-ill patients. A leader in the support of the United Nations Sustainable Goals, Msgr. Benson also collaborated with the late PC Physics professor Dr. Stephen Mecca, ’64, ‘66G, ‘19Hon, in a pilot installation of microflush valve toilets in Ghana, in an effort to improve sanitation and the spread of disease in that country. He also has hosted and coordinated service projects for PC faculty and staff on a number of Maymester trips to his home country.

Charles “Chuck” Borkoski ’71 retired in 2016 from a 46-year career with McLaughlin & Moran, the major Anheuser-Busch distributor in Southern New England, in 2016 having served for much of that time as the company’s vice president for marketing and portfolio development. Since his graduation from PC, Borkoski has remained closely connected to the College as the consummate alumni volunteer.  He served as a member of the College’s Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee (2009-present), as president of the Greater Providence Alumni “Mal Brown” Club (1991-92), as National Alumni Association President (2005-06), as a member of the PC Parent’s Council (2009-2012), and has been a member of the Providence President’s Council for over 15 years. Borkoski was honored with the Mal Brown Club 

Award for Exemplary Dedication and Service to PC in 1994, and with the National Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1996. Chuck and his wife Leslie ’12 also established a scholarship fund in their name for students with demonstrated financial need. 

Dr. Donna J. Formichella ’78 recently retired after a 33-year career with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, which she joined after becoming the first women to graduate as a general surgeon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in CA. Dr. Formichella performed thousands of operations during her career serving as assistant chief of surgery for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, CA from 2009-2019. She also served as chair of the Group’s Cancer Committee and Tumor Board for over 25 years.  Dr. Formichella also was a clinical instructor in the residency program at the University of California for three decades mentoring young surgeons, many of them women. 

Donna graduated magna cum laude from PC with a degree in Biology and earned her medical degree from Columbia University in 1982.  She then did a post-graduate residency at Tufts-New England Medical Center. A former member of PC’s Student Congress and chair of her class Junior Ring Weekend Committee, she has remained close to the College along with her husband, John Hannen ’78.  The two co-chaired their class 40th reunion committee and are now actively involved in their 45th reunion.

Dr. Sheila Harrity ’87 is the extended Campus Coordinator for the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators where she coordinates the coursework offerings for vocational teacher licensure and Occupational Education programs at both the undergraduate and master’s degree level for two universities in western MA. Previously, she served from 2014-2022 as Superintendent of the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District in Central Massachusetts. The second largest vocational district in that state, the area served almost 1,500 students from 18 communities.  Prior to that, Dr. Harrity was principal of Worcester Technical High School for eight years. She was named Worcester Public School Teacher of the Year in 1997, Massachusetts Principal of the Year in 2013, and MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals National High School Principal of the Year in 2014. During her tenure at Worcester Tech, the school received the National Blue Ribbon School distinction for outstanding student achievement from the US Department of Education and hosted President Obama as their commencement speaker in 2014. Dr. Harrity served as vice chair of the MA State Board of Education from 2015-2022, and was recently selected by the MA Association of Vocational Administrators to lead an initiative designed to help vocational teachers and administrators earn their professional licenses and college degrees. While a student at PC, Dr. Harrity was a member of the Women’s Basketball team.

Robert J. Palmisano ’66 is an emeritus member of PC’s Board of Trustees who served on the Board’s Finance and Strategic Planning Committees during his board tenure (2009-2018). A veteran of the medical devices industry, Palmisano was named president and CEO of Wright Medical Group, a leading orthopedic device maker, in September of 2011.  He joined the group after two years as president and CEO of the global endovascular device company ev3, Inc. During his two-year tenure, ev3’s market capitalization more than tripled. Prior to that, Palmisano served as president and CEO of IntraLase Corp., a publicly-held company engaged in the design, development and manufacture of laser products for vision correction, from 2003-2007. From 2001-2003, he was president and CEO and a director of MacroChem Corporation, a privately-held development stage pharmaceutical corporation. Earlier, he was president and CEO and director of Summit Autonomous, Inc., a publicly-held global medical products company that was acquired by Alcon, Inc. in October 2000.  Prior to 1997, Mr. Palmisano held various executive positions with Bausch & Lomb, Incorporated, then a publicly-held global eye care company.

Founded in 1917, Providence College is the only college or university in the United States administered by the Dominican Friars. The Catholic, liberal arts college has an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 4,100 students and offers degrees in 56 academic majors. Providence College has ranked first among regional colleges and universities in the North for the last three years according to U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges.”