Dr. Matt Willis Delivers Keynote Address at Fall Commencement

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Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis, MD, MPH, delivered the keynote address at Dominican University of California’s Fall 2022 commencement ceremony on December 10 at a ceremony in Angelico Concert Hall.

This was the first time the university held a fall ceremony, which was developed to accommodate the growing number of students completing their degree programs in the fall semester.

“Dominican students graduating are among the most resilient and compassionate in the university’s history,” said President Nicola Pitchford. “We are ecstatically proud of their achievements. It seems particularly special to honor these newest members of our alumni community with a keynote address by Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s Public Health Officer, whose generous partnership helped us keep our learners safe through the pandemic.”

“We are proud that many of these graduates will be joining Dr. Willis in careers of service to the health of our communities, local and global.” 

About 144 undergraduate and graduate students were eligible to receive diplomas in the fall 2022 ceremony. About 90 were undergraduates – primarily students receiving their Bachelor of Science in Nursing – and about 50 were graduate students – primarily students receiving their Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

Other undergraduate programs represented were Business Administration, Applied Computer Science, Biological Sciences, History, Global Public Health, Graphic Art and Design, Psychology and Literary and Intercultural Studies. Other graduate programs represented were Counseling Psychology, Art Therapy and Education.

Dr. Willis thanked the graduates for their work putting their “education into action” throughout the pandemic.

“Your service to our community came during one of the most challenging chapters in our history,” he said.

“You helped show what can happen when we work together and not against science and not against each other. And, best of all, our team got to work alongside you all - energized, kind, smart people who we know will create a better, more equitable and less divided future moment by moment.” 

Lynn Sondag, associate professor of art for 20 years at Dominican and now Honors program director, was announced as the recipient of the Joseph R. Fink Faculty Achievement Award presented annually as a tribute to the University’s eighth president to honor a faculty member’s lifetime achievement and dedication to the University. Recipients are recognized as outstanding teachers who have brought distinction to Dominican through research, creative work, service, or leadership.

In March 2020, Dr. Willis was one of the first public health officers in the United States to issue a shelter-at-home order. This bold move set the tone for the coming months, as both Dr. Willis and Dr. Lisa Santora, MD, MPH, Marin County’s Deputy Health Officer, led the county’s work controlling the spread of COVID-19.

In April 2021, Dominican’s Board of Trustees presented Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora with honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees in recognition of their tireless leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, positively affecting countless lives throughout our county and region. Due to health and safety protocols at the time, the degrees were bestowed during a virtual meeting of the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

“As one of Marin County’s largest employers, there was not a day that we did not benefit from Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora’s expertise and leadership,” President Emerita Mary B. Marcy said at the time. “Almost overnight we had to reimagine how we taught our students, worked with our community partners, and kept our campus safe. Marin County Public Health provided clear directives that gave us great confidence as we developed and refined our own policies and procedures.”

A Marin County native, Dr. Matt Willis has been the County’s Public Health Officer since 2013. Dr. Willis calls on experience as a physician, an epidemiologist, and a member of this community to guide public health strategy for Marin.  He is a champion for innovative and highly collaborative solutions to the complex health challenges facing our community.

He served previously in the U.S. Public Health Service as Director of Primary Care on the Navajo Reservation and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where he conducted research and outbreak investigations in the U.S. and abroad.

Dr. Willis holds a Medical Degree from Temple University and completed a Master’s in Public Health and Internal Medicine residency at Harvard University.

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