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Graduate School degree recipients encouraged to embrace the future, take up baton of ‘saving the world’

Keynote speaker Sabine Hadida encouraged students to embrace the future and take up the baton of “saving the world” during the Graduate School’s annual commencement ceremony Saturday (May 18) at Notre Dame Stadium.

Keynote speaker Sabine Hadida encouraged students to embrace the future and take up the baton of “saving the world” during the Graduate School’s annual commencement ceremony Saturday (May 18) at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Today is not just about looking back at what you have achieved; it’s about embracing the opportunities that the future brings. And don’t you worry, there will be many as long as you are willing to take up the challenge they present,” Hadida said.

That said, “As you get on with this next chapter of your life, remember the values you have learned as graduate students: integrity, humility and a commitment to excellence,” she said. “And never forget the support system that has brought you to this moment — your family, friends, mentors and colleagues who have supported you along the way.”

Hadida is senior vice president and San Diego site head at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, where she and her team have developed a variety of FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system.

For her revolutionary work in drug discovery, she was a co-recipient, with Paul Negulescu and Fredrick Van Goor, of the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, as well as the 2023 Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences.

Not that it’s been easy.

Hadida recalled the cold response from the scientific community to her and her team’s early research theorizing that small molecules could restore the function of a mutant protein — a “crazy” idea at the time but one that ultimately would lead to the first medication to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis.

“I remember presenting experimental data at a conference related to what ultimately became our first (cystic fibrosis) drug. I was, believe it or not, shouted off the stage because the experts did not believe in this approach,” Hadida said. “I thought that only happened in movies, but I guess my mother-in-law was right all along when she said: ‘If it happens on TV, it can happen in real life.’”

Fortunately, she said, she ignored the naysayers and followed the evidence.

“That experience taught me that there are no crazy ideas as long as they don’t violate the laws of physics or thermodynamics,” she said. “So the next time someone shrugs their shoulders about your idea, just tell them what I just told you.

“You must have faith in yourself,” she told the graduates. “After all, you are a graduate of Notre Dame.”

In introducing Hadida, John McGreevy, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at Notre Dame, referred to her as a “hero” and “innovator” who “uses her expertise to fight for patients who have been fighting for every breath.”

A man hands a diploma to another man during a commencement ceremony. The men wear matching blue robes. The man receiving the diploma also wears a blue cap with a gold tassel.
Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., left, hands a diploma to a Graduate School student Saturday (May 18) at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Following Hadida’s remarks, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., conferred degrees on the students before delivering his final charge to the class. Father Jenkins will step down from his role as president at the end of the academic year, making way for his successor, Rev. Robert A. Dowd, C.S.C.

"As I step down from the presidency, I am most proud of the progress Notre Dame has made in research and graduate school education in recent decades, as a university traditionally known for undergraduate education increasingly takes its place among the distinguished graduate programs in the world,” Father Jenkins said. “This growth is due not only to our distinguished faculty and academic leaders, but also to the scholarly contributions you, our graduates, have made and will make. We are so proud to call you our graduates."

In addition to Hadida, McGreevy and Father Jenkins, Saturday’s ceremony featured Michael Hildreth, associate provost and vice president for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School, and Prashant Kamat, the Rev. John A. Zahm Professor of Science at Notre Dame, among others. Hildreth opened the convocation, welcoming students, faculty, staff and visotors and introducing the platform party. Kamat, one of two winners of this year’s Rev. James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award, delivered the invocation.

Commencement activities conclude Sunday (May 19) with undergraduate commencement, at which Hadida will be recognized as one of four honorary degree recipients. For more information, visit

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