Dr. Robert Fineman, CST '66, featured CST graduation speaker
From prepared remarks by Robert Fineman, CST Graduation Ceremony, May 11, 2017
Members of the administration, faculty and staff, and family members and friends - we are all honored to be here today to enjoy this momentous and meaningful occasion. Please join me in congratulating the College of Science and Technology graduating Class of May 2017.
The phrase Temple Made was coined by the university in 2012. I want to tell you what this phrase means to me - and for everyone here to think about what it means to each of us today, and for the rest of our lives.
To say I am a Temple Made man is a huge understatement because this university significantly shaped my life and greatly helped me live my version of the “American Dream.” And I constantly remind myself of this by looking at the 1966 Temple graduation ring I have worn on my right ring-finger every day for the past 51-years.
When I graduated high school in January 1963, I was awarded a full-tuition Temple University scholarship based on academic excellence and financial need, and a partial-tuition Philadelphia Public Board of Education scholarship. Thankfully, Temple allowed me to use both scholarships which meant every semester Temple gave me a check to pay for books, laboratory and other fees, and basic living expenses.
Temple was a commuter school of slightly more than 20,000 students when I was a chemistry major here from 1963 to 1966. From its very beginning in 1884, the university sought to educate students like me who showed academic promise, but were financially disadvantaged. In addition, Temple was in a large urban area and culturally diverse, much to my liking. The science departments where I spent most of my time had excellent teachers - and because of the two scholarships my college education was free as long as I maintained a 3.0 grade point average.
Dr. Hazel Tomlinson was my freshman chemistry professor. She was a faculty member at Temple for more than 50-years, challenging and nurturing in equal proportion, patient, caring, and very compassionate - although some may disagree with this assessment because many students didn’t make it through her freshman chemistry course aimed mostly at prospective chemistry majors. Thanks to a very inspirational chemistry teacher I had in high school, I got A’s in freshman chemistry.
In my sophomore year, I began working as a part-time undergraduate assistant for Dr. Tomlinson. I made sure her student labs were well supplied with the proper chemicals, checked out the lab equipment, prepared the “unknowns” used in the labs to test students, and I graded their tests. The pay was good, and I enjoyed working for Dr. Tomlinson until I graduated because I learned more about chemistry from her, and I was able to help other students at the same time.
After I was accepted to medical school, I told Dr. Tomlinson the good news. She said she was very happy for me, and then she asked me if she could come to my home to talk to my parents. When I asked her what she wanted to talk about she said, “medical school.”
To the day I die I will never forget what happened next. It was during Passover when she came to our home in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. This petite 60-year old professor, about 5’5” tall with gray curly hair and weighing about 115 pounds, sat down at our dining room table and ate dry matzo and water. For whatever reason, she refused to eat or drink anything else my mother offered. She started off by saying she had talked to me previously about medical school costs and she knew it was going to be a problem for me. Then she said, “I will loan Bob the money for medical school tuition, room, board, books and fees, interest free, for as long as he needs it.” My parents and I were speechless and ever since, when I think about Dr. Tomlinson I often get emotional with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
Her visit to our home lasted less than 20 minutes and ended with a handshake. My parents and I thanked her profusely, but she said it was not necessary. Many years later I found out why. She had done the same thing for other students - quietly and with no personal recognition. That was the kind of person she was. Fortunately for me, in the second year of an MD/PhD program in 1967 I received a fellowship that paid for tuition, room, board, books and fees. After my wonderful bride, Bonnie, and I got married in June 1968, we paid Dr. Tomlinson back the money she had loaned me.
Strangely enough, Dr. Tomlinson and I share the same birth date - May 15th. Sadly, she passed away in 1993, and every year on our birth date I say a prayer for her - for her kindness and her friendship - quietly and without any fanfare, just the way she would want it. One other thing about Dr. Tomlinson - in her last will and testament she left money from her estate to create and maintain the Tomlinson Scholarship Fund in CST.
The phrase Temple Made is also very relevant to a lot of my relatives and friends. I have about a dozen relatives who went to school here including my older brother, and cousins who graduated from Temple’s undergraduate, graduate, medical, dental and law schools. Most of my high school classmates who went on to a four-year college went to Temple, too.
Unfortunately, time does not permit me to tell you about a lot of the other enjoyable things I did when I was a student here - for example, going to Temple football and basketball games, and some of the crazy, strange things that happened when I worked for Dr. Tomlinson and Dr. Francis Case, who was a faculty member in the chemistry department for more than 60-years.
At this time I want to tell you what Temple Made means to me not just in regard to my admiration and respect for CST, but in a university-wide sense and in the grand scheme of things. Temple has educated and supported generations of students, increased the world’s collective knowledge and understanding, and made Philadelphia, the United States and the rest of the world a better place to live through its research, its service and, last but not least, its generosity.
From educating generations of change-makers to its cutting-edge research, Temple has inspired many alumni and friends to support the university’s grand mission. Simply put - people here and throughout the world invest in Temple because of their confidence and heartfelt belief that the work done here makes all of us better human beings. Their investments in research and teaching, academic programs, scholarships, fellowships and facilities in turn expand Temple’s capacity to make a difference and pursue academic excellence. This partnership, this collective good, is essential and truly remarkable in its impact and its scope.
The difference between being involved with a cause and being committed to a cause is like a ham and eggs omelet - the chicken is involved in the making of the omelet but the pig is truly committed.
Bonnie, my bride of 49-years next month, and I have been truly committed to paying Temple forward. Temple is like a member of our family - and we established in CST in 1995 the Edward and Frances Fineman Scholarship Fund to honor my parents. We have also donated money to the Dean’s Endowed Term Professorship Fund, the Undergraduate Student Research Fund, the Baptist Temple Renovation Fund and the Owl Club. And I served for many years on the CST Board of Visitors.
Two thousand years ago, Kikero, the great Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer and orator, also known as Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
In 1963, when I was a student here, President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
I urge everyone here to commit yourselves in the future to supporting Temple as much as you can, and especially CST, by donating your time, your efforts and your money - not only because Temple is family, but also because the education and experiences we have here are priceless. Of course, no one at Temple asked or told me to say these things. I say them because I love this university.
I want to thank at this time several people in Temple’s Offices of Institutional Advancement who made it so easy and so painless over the years for Bonnie and me to donate money to Temple - so thanks, again, Jennifer Trautwein, Jeffrey Miller and David Miller.
And, last but certainly not least, I want to publicly thank past Dean of CST and current Temple University Vice President, Dr. Hai-Lung Dai, and current CST Dean, Dr. Michael Klein, for the outstanding job they have done in helping to make CST better than it ever was. With future investments from every one of us, we can make it even better.
In closing, I urge all of us to continue to go from strength to strength in our attempts to make the world a better place than we found it, to live inspired and inspiring Temple Made lives, and may we never forget those who helped us to get here – including our families, teachers, mentors, friends and, of course, this university.