Distributed May 17, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Kristen Cole

Commencement features

Brown’s graduating Class of 2001 offers some noteworthy stories

Brown’s Class of 2001 includes an 84-year-old who will graduate after 14 years, two students who are leading nonprofit organizations, and a student who started an art program for local hospitalized adults. More than 1,300 seniors are expected to graduate May 28.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Among those expected to graduate with the Class of 2001:

Harold Cohen

Cohen, 84, of Providence, will graduate from Brown after 14 years. In 1987, Cohen entered the University to resume an undergraduate education he had postponed in 1933. Taking one course per semester, Cohen has fulfilled the requirements for a history concentration. His final course this spring was “Ancient Synagogues, Churches and Mosques in Palestine.” Cohen’s path to Brown was sidetracked by life events. In the early 1930s, during the heart of the Depression, the senior at Classical High School in Providence postponed his entrance to support himself, his brother, and three sisters. His father had just died, preceded by Cohen’s mother. When Cohen was 20, he and a friend started a paper recycling company. Shortly after, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Cohen was among the first Army troops to leave the United States. After attending radar school in Hawaii, he went on to take part in the invasion of Guam. For four-and-a-half years, Cohen served overseas. Once home, Cohen rejoined his company. The partners sold the firm in 1984; Cohen stayed on until 1986. Then, at the urging of his wife and daughter, he began to think about going back to school.

“Thinking you can’t keep up with young people is a state of mind,” Cohen said. “John Glenn didn’t think he was too old for the space shuttle. George Bush didn’t think he was too old to jump out of a plane. Jacques Cousteau wasn’t too old to visit the bottom of the sea. If you feel old, you’ll be old.”

He has no plans for graduate school at this point, he added.

Brian Swett

When he was young, Brian Swett rolled the spare change his grandmother had set aside to donate to charities. Now Swett, 22, will honor her memory by using her money to help those in need. Using a $20,000 inheritance from his grandmother, Swett recently established a nonprofit organization directed at improving the lives of families living in poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The idea came to him by chance. The same week Swett, a public policy and international relations student from Newton, Mass., received the inheritance, he read a newspaper article about a Massachusetts man who annually transports food, clothes, toys and books to the struggling Lakota of the reservation. It was a project in which Muriel Swett would have been interested. The woman who had received a master’s degree in social work contributed to Native American causes, including serving as an early sponsor of the American Indian College Fund. She died in 1996 at the age of 87.

“I was looking for a way to honor her,” said Swett. “The compassion that she had for other people was contagious.”

The goals outlined in the statement of his nonprofit organization, called Na’ca ’Cikala, or Little Warrior, include acquiring property on the reservation to establish a counseling center and a distribution center for clothing, toys, books and furniture. Of the 20,000-plus people who live on the reservation, more than three-quarters are unemployed. A third are homeless; others live in dilapidated houses without electricity and running water. After graduation, Swett will continue to do fundraising for the organization, while also separately pursuing environmental policy work.

Emily Spivack

As the daughter of a four-time cancer survivor, Spivack knows firsthand how wellness programs can help patients feel better about themselves and how that feeling can aid in their recovery. That’s why she is launching Shop Well with You, a nonprofit organization that will match cancer patients with personal shoppers who are trained to be sensitive to the needs of cancer patients. Since the age of 10, Spivack watched as her mother recovered from radiation treatment, chemotherapy, a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, efforts that brought to light the everyday problems patients face.

“She didn’t have much energy,” recalled Spivack, so she would help her mother find clothing that was easy to put on after surgery, or that didn’t irritate her healing body. Spivack, of Wilmington, Del., said that when her mother looked good, “it improved the way she felt about herself and how others treated her. She was treated like she wasn’t sick.”

Fashion was always a career aspiration for Spivack, who studied art semiotics at Brown. She was thrilled to land an internship at the fashion house Betsy Johnson during the summer after her freshman year. Although the experience was positive, Spivack said, “something was missing.” She decided to take a year off to volunteer at Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that provides low-income women with professional clothing to wear on job interviews. The experience taught her “there are ways to use clothing and fashion in productive ways to help people.” That was the inspiration for Shop Well with You. Spivack will pilot the program after graduation and plans to found the nonprofit in September.

Ainsley MacLean

MacLean bridged her dual interests in art and medicine by developing a program called “All About Art” for cancer patients at Women & Infants Hospital. Sponsored by the Swearer Center for Public Service and backed by a dozen fellow student volunteers, MacLean coordinates weekly visits to inpatients at the Providence hospital, during which the students work with the women on art projects in varying themes. For MacLean, art has a natural place in the world of medicine and healing. A studio arts concentrator who hails from Providence, MacLean will start medical school next year in the second phase of Brown’s eight-year Program of Liberal Medical Education (PLME), which combines undergraduate and professional studies in medicine. She began combining her two interests her freshman year, when she worked with young patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. But she knew her first interest was in adult patients, so she approached Denise Roncarati, the director of volunteers at Women & Infants Hospital, about establishing an art program there.

Adults “are overlooked when it comes to art,” MacLean explained. “In our society, women especially don’t have time to focus on their artistic side. ... The recreational role of making art is seen as self-indulgent and extraneous.”

Ironically, a hospital stay can provide the perfect opportunity for painting and drawing; it may be the only time a woman isn’t caught up in taking care of her children, home or aging parents. Although she’ll begin medical school next fall, MacLean plans to direct the hospital art program herself and recruit an undergraduate coordinator for her volunteers next year. She hopes to eventually see art incorporated into the Brown Medical School curriculum.