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08-15-2012

Son of Henrietta Lacks to Speak at Clarkson University Convocation August 26

David "Sonny" Lacks will deliver the Van Sickle Endowed Lecture as Clarkson University celebrates the start of the 2012-2013 academic year with a convocation on Sunday, August 26, at 7 p.m. in Cheel Arena. The event is open to the public free of charge.

David Lacks' lecture is being presented in conjunction with this year's first-year student common reading assignment, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which the entire Clarkson and North Country community has been invited to read.

Sonny Lacks, a son of Henrietta Lacks, will present a discussion about his mother and her important contribution to science. He will share what it meant to find out -- decades after the fact -- that his mother's cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, went on to become the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Those cells, nicknamed HeLa, became one of the most important tools in modern medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.

Although Henrietta died in 1951, her cells -- alive and growing to this day -- are still the most widely used cell line in the world.

Sonny Lacks' message will give a sincere first-person perspective on the collision between ethics, race and the commercialization of human tissue, and how the experience changed the Lacks family forever.

Visiting Clarkson with Lacks will be his nephew, Ron, Henrietta's grandson. Both will participate in a moderated discussion followed by an audience question & answer session, moderated by Associate Professor of History Laura Ettinger.

The public is also invited to a discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on Thursday, September 13, at 7 p.m. in the Potsdam Civic Center. Professors JoAnn Rogers and Laura Ettinger will facilitate the discussion.

Clarkson's opening convocation is a ceremony where all members of the academic community come together to usher in the new academic year. It is also an opportunity to welcome the newest students to the campus and initiate their connection to Clarkson’s traditions and the various constituencies of the University community.

The Kenneth J. and Irla Van Sickle Endowed Lectureship was established in 1992 through generous bequests from the estates of Kenneth and Irla Van Sickle of Shortsville, N.Y. The Van Sickles shared interests in photography, gardening, nature and stamp collecting. During their long and active lives, the Van Sickles were dedicated to hard work, placing great value on education, particularly higher education.

For more information, please contact Tamera Rizk at 315-268-6680 or trizk@clarkson.edu .

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/dlacks.jpg .]

Photo caption: David "Sonny" Lacks (above) will deliver the Van Sickle Endowed Lecture as Clarkson University celebrates the start of the 2012-2013 academic year with a convocation on Sunday, August 26, at 7 p.m. in Cheel Arena.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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