Speaker credits Juniata College for his success

HUNTINGDON – You couldn’t imagine two more different backgrounds: John Kuriyan, the accomplished commencement speaker, contrasted to Domenic Cuzzolina, a talented young person and one of the almost 400 students who received degrees from Juniata College in Huntingdon on Saturday.

Yet the two men have one crucial thing in common that makes all the difference; they both said that at Juniata, they discovered the joy of learning about all kinds of things, which is what they believe a liberal arts education brings.

But Kuriyan, now professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, said his early education life didn’t have such an auspicious beginning when he started college at the University of Madras in his native India.

“In India, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, one’s course of study is completely [determined], even down to the last lecture hour,” he said. “Are you an English Lit. major who yearns for the excitement in [genetics]? Forbidden! Are you a physicist with a yen for the Romantic poets? No [John] Keats for you!”

But Kuriyan, who came to Juniata on a scholarship and lived with a host family in Huntingdon, said he found Juniata College to be quite the opposite of the large university he had come from in India. The school he’d transferred to offered a variety of courses he never would have been able to take at his former school, he said.

“It was a great opportunity to be an undergraduate at an American institution,” he said. “I acted in several plays while at Juniata and also took classes in English Literature. This would not have been possible in India as a chemistry major.”

Listening to Kuriyan speak and waiting to receive his college diploma, Cuzzolina of Hollidaysburg is unlike Kuriyan in many ways. Cuzzolina, who is the son of David and Dorcey Cuzzolina, grew up in an area much smaller than where Kuriyan came from in India.

But like Kuriyan, Cuzzolina recognized the importance of having a wide variety of college course offerings, plus a range of experiences, which he said he found at Juniata.

“I went to Mexico and Spain, which were both unique but equally fulfilling opportunities,” he said.

Cuzzolina, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in economics, worked as an intern for Huntingdon County Business & Industry Inc. He also worked on campus for the school’s Career Services office for three years, in addition to volunteer work at the college.

“I really value having a strong balance of depth and diversity in my skill sets and experiences,” he said.

When he graduated from Juniata, Kuriyan went on to earn a doctorate in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by further study at Harvard University. He joined the faculty of The Rockefeller University, a graduate university in New York City and worked mostly as a researcher for the next 14 years. At Berkeley where he is now, in addition to overseeing a cancer research lab, he teaches undergrads the fundamentals of chemistry and physics and their connections to biological systems.

In 2001, Kuriyan was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of five Juniata alumni chosen for the group.

The academy was created by Congressional charter in 1863 to provide expert scientific information to the government, according to the group’s website. Kuriyan’s list of credentials is extensive, including serving as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1990.

He urged the graduates to try in some way return to the world what the college had given to them, through the myriad of resources at their disposal.