The young woman paused to adjust the mortar board atop her head, take a breath and compose herself. Years of diligent study, scientific training and mentoring had led to this moment, and the weight of it seemed to bear down on her.
|Rongze Lu, left, thanks her mentor, Jack Shively, after receiving her doctorate. (Photo by AmyCantrell.com)|
Rongze Lu cleared her throat and, with encouragement from the crowd gathered before her, began to passionately share the story of personal sacrifice that transformed her from a shy child from rural China into a promising scientist and strong young woman. Her impassioned speech not only acknowledged her mentors and fellow students for supporting her, but also served as a reminder of the challenges and difficult choices faced by those striving for success.
Lu and a dozen of her fellow students accepted their Doctor of Philosophy degrees during the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences’ 13th commencement ceremony on June 10. In addition to Lu, graduates included Nicole Bennardo, Amy Cook, Michelle Hunter, Donald Jhung, Shan Li, Lucy Liu, Yuelong Ma, Megan Prosser, Daniel Tamae, Ruiqing Wang, Cynthie Wong and Jun Xie. Wei Liang, Serina Ortiz, Hao Pan and Nicholas Pannunzio received their degrees in absentia.
For Lu, it was the culmination of a journey that began even before her teen years, when she was 12. Her parents, who are elementary school teachers, valued a good education and saw great potential in their daughter. They sent her away from her rural home in Zi Lai Qiao, an undeveloped region in the Anhui province of eastern China, to a distant and more rigorous middle school.
“It was difficult for them, but they invested a lot of effort to educate me, and it was important that their daughter have an opportunity for a better life,” Lu said.
Throughout middle school and high school, she could rarely visit her family, and afterward, she moved to Shanghai to attend Tongji University, one of China’s oldest and most esteemed educational institutions, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in 2007.
Inspired by an undergraduate research project on diabetes, which introduced her to City of Hope’s work, she then applied to the institution’s graduate school in 2007 and was accepted. Instead of living about 300 miles away from her family, she soon put the breadth of the Pacific Ocean between them.
The move quickly paid off. In her first year at City of Hope, she received an H.N. & Frances C. Berger Fellowship, which covered her stipend and benefits. After rotating through several labs, she joined that of Jack Shively, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Immunology, where she studied the role of a specific protein in cell development and cancer. Her work recently was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Now that she has graduated, she will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at biotechnology company Genentech Inc. looking for new anticancer drug targets. From there, she hopes to obtain a position in U.S. academia or return to China as a professor.
Lu has seen her parents only rarely in the 13 years since middle school. She once found it hard to understand how her father could send her away from home when she was so young; but now that she has earned her doctoral degree — she is the first in her family and possibly in the history of her small hometown to do so — she knows that her parents had only the best intentions in mind.
“I could hear the pride and love in my parents’ voices when I phoned them to say I earned my doctorate,” Lu said. “I think that is when I really understood their sacrifice and how important it was to them, and especially my father, that I succeed.”
Graduate school honors renowned philanthropist and pioneering executive
The Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences honored Sherry Lansing with an honorary Doctor of Science degree during the school’s 13th commencement ceremony on June 10.
“Sherry is a tremendous advocate for the advancement of cancer research, health and education,” said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., president and chief executive officer. “She has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars and promoted invaluable awareness to help patients everywhere, and there is not a person more decent or deserving of this honorary degree than Sherry.”
Lansing has provided leadership and guidance for an array of nonprofit, humanitarian and educational organizations including the Carter Center, Teach for America and the American Association for Cancer Research. She founded the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which raises awareness and funds for cancer research and supports education, arts and culture. She also co-founded the organizations STOP CANCER and Stand Up To Cancer to fund research toward cures for the disease, and she serves on the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
A former actress and entertainment executive, Lansing was the first woman to head a Hollywood film studio. She also was the first female studio head to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.