ORLANDO, May 14, 2010 — Dr. Carmelo Licitra, M.D., an Orlando infectious disease specialist and UCF alumnus last week urged graduates of the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences to give back to the community and become a part of the university’s dynamic growth.
Dr. Licitra spoke at a reception honoring Burnett school graduates at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. In introducing Dr. Licitra, Dr. Pappachan Kolattukudy, director of the Burnett school, described the physician as “a leader and a healer,” noting that Dr. Licitra is a volunteer faculty member at the UCF College of Medicine and also teaches at the colleges of medicine at the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Dr. Licitra told graduates and their families that his life had been filled with unexpected “blessings,” that initially seemed like “the worst thing that could have happened to me.” He spoke of immigrating to the United States from Italy when John F. Kennedy was president and the DNA double helix had just been described. Everything the family owned was stored in a small trunk. The family settled in New York and Dr. Licitra earned a soccer scholarship to college only to be drafted during the Vietnam War. “On Friday, I was in class. On Tuesday, I was living in the barracks,” he said. But Dr. Licitra was soon stationed in Orlando, where he became a hospital orderly and became inspired by working along doctors in the Navy hospital’s emergency room. So in 1975, he enrolled full-time at UCF, then called Florida Technological University.
There, he met Dr. Robert Gennaro, now associate director of the Burnett school, who nurtured his student’s love of science and microbiology. In 1977, Dr. Licitra earned his B.S. degree in Microbiology, which was then housed in the Department of biology. He thanked Dr. Gennaro for “his encouragement and guidance that helped me achieve my goal of being a physician. It wasn’t by chance that I became an infectious disease doctor.”
Dr. Licitra told graduates that the word “alma mater” means “nourishing mother” and comes from his native Rome. He urged the graduates to give back to UCF and “be part of the change that is shaping the university.”
Burnett faculty members echoed the speaker’s theme, saying they were excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for the young scientists. Assistant Professor Dorilyn Hitchcock, director of the Burnett school’s Medical Laboratory Science program, summed up faculty members’ graduation sentiments when she said, “I tell all of my students, ‘I’ll do everything I can to get you to the door. All you have to do is open it.'”