Louis LaSalle receives honorary degree at Caldwell commencement

Photo Courtesy of Caldwell University
Retired RWJBarnabas Health executive Louis LaSalle, third from left, received an honorary degree from Caldwell University on May 15. Pictured with him are, from left, Caldwell University President Matthew Whelan, and Caldwell University board of trustees Chairperson Linda Luciano and Vice Chairperson Brian Aloia.

CALDWELL, NJ — Caldwell University celebrated the achievements of its Class of 2022 at its 80th commencement on Sunday, May 15. President Matthew Whelan commended the graduates for being “the best example of perseverance and resilience.” He reminded them that “no one does it alone” and asked them to show appreciation by standing up and giving a round of applause to those who helped them earn their degrees.

The university presented an honorary degree to Louis LaSalle, a longtime executive in New Jersey’s health care industry. He recently retired as senior vice president for corporate external affairs at Barnabas Health. LaSalle is a seasoned professional in community, public and governmental affairs in the health care field, having spent 31 years at RWJBarnabas Health and Saint Barnabas Medical Center. A resident of Roseland, LaSalle has been active in community service on a number of New Jersey boards and committees, including as president of the Essex County Parks Foundation, a member of the Caldwell University President’s Advisory Council and chairperson of the Roseland Planning Board. 

LaSalle thanked RWJBarnabas Health for “allowing me to get where I am today.” He recalled how he had grown up poor in East Orange, one of four children, the son of Italian immigrants. His father died young. His mother, despite the family’s struggles, always stressed the importance of work, education, faith and caring for the less fortunate. LaSalle told the graduates to remember those who are in need, to listen a lot and upon initially meeting someone to remember that person’s name by repeating it three times in a conversation. And he said it is important to live out the message in that morning’s Gospel reading. “Love is what it’s all about.” 

Yaman Thapa, the student speaker for the undergraduate commencement ceremony, spoke about the journey of discovery Caldwell graduates have made during their university careers and how they faced obstacles with resilience and compassion. “These obstacles allowed us to advance in growth. Growth happens when we explore outside our comfort zones,” said Thapa, a native of Nepal who received a chemistry degree with a minor in neuroscience. She spoke of one of her favorite books, “The Little Prince,” which features a geographer who sits on his planet, designs maps, “only studies and doesn’t wander,” and relies on information other people give him. “What I realized is that we were not like that geographer,” Thapa said, “we are explorers, going beyond our studies, to use our knowledge and discover the best versions of ourselves. Thapa has been accepted by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring, N.Y., to pursue a Ph.D. 

The graduate ceremony speaker was Patricia Valerio, who received an MBA. She shared one of her favorite quotes from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” Valerio pointed out that the words were not Darwin’s, but those of business professor Leon Megginson, who interpreted Darwin’s writings. Both men, Valerio said, “understood that the concept and the need to adapt to change transcended their respective fields.” A resident of Lincroft, Valerio is an assistant manager for Medforce, where she does event planning for pharmaceutical companies.  “I think one of the most powerful qualities about the Caldwell University Class of 2022 graduates is that this is a group that is not only not apprehensive of change but also one that has made efforts to welcome those challenges into our lives,” she said.