Deogratias Niyizonkiza, founder and CEO of Village Health Works in the African country of Burundi, and Francis G. Vitetta, retired chairman and CEO of VITETTA, will address degree recipients and earn honorary degrees at Arcadia University’s 2015 Commencement ceremonies. Vitetta will address master’s and doctoral degree candidates and receive an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at the graduate Commencement on Thursday, May 14, while Niyizonkiza will address baccalaureate degree candidates and receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities at the undergraduate Commencement on Friday, May 15.
“Arcadia University is fortunate to have two leaders in their respective fields address graduates at this year’s Commencement ceremonies,” said Dr. Nicolette DeVille Christensen, president of Arcadia University. “Both Deogratias Niyizonkiza and Francis Vitetta embody the international vision and dedication to excellence that is central to the core of Arcadia’s mission. We look forward to having them as part of the 2015 Commencement.”
A leading advocate and key voice in global health, Niyizonkiza is founder and CEO of Village Health Works, a nonprofit that provides compassionate, quality health care to the most vulnerable community members (150,000 people) in the East African country of Burundi. There, Niyizonkiza attended grade school and part of medical school before surviving a massacre at a Burundian hospital. In 1994, he fled to New York, arriving penniless and without speaking a word of English. He attended Columbia University, Harvard School of Public Health, and Dartmouth Medical School. At Harvard School of Public Health, he met Dr. Paul Farmer and began working for the medical nonprofit Partners In Health, assisting in the strategic planning and implementation of the organization’s project in Rwanda. After finishing his education, Niyizonkiza returned to Burundi to establish Village Health Works in 2007.
Niyizonkiza is the recipient of multiple awards, including the 2014 Dalai Lama’s Unsung Heroes Award, 2014 Wheaton College Otis Social Justice Award, 2013 People to People International’s Eisenhower Medallion Award, 2011 International Medal Award of St. John’s University, and 2010 Women’s Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award. In 2011, Strength in What Remains, a New York Times bestselling biography, was selected as summer reading for new students at Arcadia. Niyizonkiza visited campus that year to address first-year students, inspiring the Class of 2015 to reflect on and discuss such topics as global health, genocide, and ethnicity.
A Trustee Emeritus of Arcadia University, Vitetta is the retired chairman and CEO of VITETTA, a Philadelphia-based architectural, engineering, and planning firm with offices in eight cities. VITETTA’s projects have won numerous design awards from organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Progressive Architecture magazine. The firm’s projects include work on Philadelphia City Hall, the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, the Liacouras Center at Temple University, and Market East (now Jefferson) Station.
In 1995, Vitetta and his wife, Dollie, established an endowed research fund in memory of their daughter, Stacy Anne Vitetta ’82. Ten faculty members have been named to the Stacy Anne Vitetta Professorship, a biannual award that assists young, non-tenured faculty who are starting their teaching careers, have limited resources, and exhibit a passion for pursuing independent research. Vitetta served on the University’s Board of Trustees for 25 years, retiring in 2010. He chaired the University’s Building and Grounds Committee, taking a leadership role in guiding the Landman Library project and the planning of the University Commons. He also assisted with Knight Hall projects (new residence hall), the expansion of the Dining Hall, renovations to Murphy Hall, and the design and construction of the Health Sciences Center and the Kuch Recreation and Athletic Center.