Meet GMercyU's Commencement Speakers 2019

May 8, 2019

GMercyU is proud to welcome two distinguished speakers to the 2019 Commencement Ceremonies. Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes and Gloria Bonilla-Santiago will be addressing GMercyU’s Class of 2019 at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony and the Graduate Commencement Ceremony, respectively. In addition to these esteemed women, two GMercyU graduates will address their fellow classmates as Student Speakers. BSN graduate Amber O’Toole will share her touching story during the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony and EdD graduate Karen DeVose will empower listeners during the Graduate Commencement Ceremony. 

Undergraduate Commencement Speaker

Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes, Ret.

Renée Cardwell Hughes is the CEO of The Hughes group, which advises on strategic planning, change and crisis management and leadership development. Prior to founding the Hughes Group, Renée was the CEO of the fourth largest market in the American Red Cross (ARC) for more than six years. As CEO of The ARC of Eastern Pennsylvania, she was responsible for the region’s strategic vision, annual operating plan, and budget, donor funding program, team leadership, governance and partnerships with local, state and federal government and business alliances.
Renée led a team of 85 full time and 45 part-time staff along with more than 4,000 volunteers who plan and execute local, regional and national disaster relief, safety education programs, and support members of the Armed Forces. Additionally, she was responsible for the region’s highly regulated blood supply. Her team responded to fires daily in partnership with regional Fire Departments and in partnership with federal, state and local officials handled the emergency needs arising from large-scale disasters.
As a change manager, Renée successfully spearheaded the merger of 17 counties to condense operations and the integration of the Blood/Biomedical and Humanitarian Services divisions to deliver enhanced service offerings and more efficient funds deployment. Her team founded and operates the only Red Cross House in the nation, a unique facility which provides care and recovery for people who have been displaced by disasters.
Renée was a trial judge for more than 15 years before joining the American Red Cross, where she handled both complex civil and criminal cases. She specialized in homicides, handling some of Philadelphia's most notorious cases. She founded the City's mental health court and co-authored a book on witness intimidation. Renée began her career as a successful corporate attorney.
Renée received her legal degree from Georgetown University Law Center and her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. She has received numerous awards for her leadership, courage, and community involvement. She was inducted into the International Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management 2013 Hall of Fame. She was recognized in 2013 and in 2017 by the Philadelphia Business Journal as a Minority Business Leader; in 2014 Philadelphia Style Magazine named her one of the City’s Power Women, and in 2016 Renée was recognized by the Philadelphia Business Journal as a Woman of Distinction. Renée was selected as the Pearl S. Buck International 2018 Woman of Influence.
Renée is a Qualified Financial Expert and serves on the board of The Independence Health Group which is the parent company of Independence Blue Cross and Amerihealth Caritas. Renée also serves on the boards of The Haverford Trust Company and The Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC).

Graduate Commencement Speaker

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, PhD

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor in the Graduate Department of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She also directs the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers University and is the overseer and Board Chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, N.J.
As a leading scholar, researcher, speaker, and international cross-cultural training consultant, Dr. Bonilla-Santiago has more than 25 years of experience in program development, fundraising, strategic planning, and leadership training. In 1993, she received the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest recognition for teaching given to Rutgers' faculty by the President of the University. In 2008, she received the L’Oreal Paris Women Of Worth Award, a national recognition that honors 10 women for their exemplary and transcending service to communities.  
Dr. Bonilla-Santiago’s record of service and the impact of her work with the community are exemplary by any standard. Her work on behalf of children and families has resulted in the development of a model charter school in Camden City that today serves 1,400 students. Her educational model and pioneer work is breaking grounds in the field of education nationally and internationally.
Dr. Bonilla-Santiago’s work through the Rutgers Community Leadership Center is broadening and deepening the leadership base in New Jersey’s communities and beyond. She spearheads a number of signature projects with local and national impact in areas of Education Innovation and School transformation, conflict resolution, diversity management, organizational behavior, leadership development, and community development.
As a faculty member, Dr. Bonilla-Santiago has been successful in translating her research and empirical work into real policy strategies that have garnered a number of important contributions, such as charter school legislation in New Jersey; the enactment of important legislation impacting on women and the education of urban children. 
Dr. Bonilla-Santiago is the author of numerous articles and three books. She is also a blogger for US World News, Huffington Post, and a commentator for ABC, NBC, and CBS News on issues of Education.

Student Speakers

Undergraduate Student Speaker: Amber O’Toole, BSN ‘19

Amber O’Toole has been a dedicated scholar and avid learner during her time at Gwynedd Mercy University. Amber is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania [SNAP]. As a member of those organizations, Amber operated and aided in many community service projects. She also worked in the University’s Admissions Office and as a tutor, forming her own study groups to assist her fellow nursing students.  On Saturday, Amber is graduating from GMercyU with her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She is from Southampton, Pennsylvania and is a graduate of William Tennent High School.

Amber was selected as the Student Speaker for the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony, where she will share her inspiring story of family, perseverance, and making the world a better place. She’s excited to encourage and congratulate her fellow graduates with her speech on Saturday.
Graduate Student Speaker: Karen DeVose, EdD ‘19
Karen DeVose is a dedicated higher education administrator with more than 15 years of experience. She is currently the Assistant Director of Advising for the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Prior to joining Syracuse University, Karen held a variety of positions at Drexel University from 2008-2018, including Director of Inter-College Advising, Enrollment Management, and Student Success, and served as the Education Coordinator for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at Thomas Jefferson University.
Karen holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mansfield University, a master’s degree in Education Administration from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, and a post-baccalaureate certificate in student development and affairs from Drexel University.

At GMercyU’s Graduate Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, Karen will celebrate the completion of her executive doctorate in educational leadership. She is excited to share her story with her fellow graduates as the Graduate Student Speaker and inspire the Class of 2019 to continue to embody the values of GMercyU as they move forward in their careers.