Contributed by Meg McCaffrey/Assistant Director of Media Relations

Founders of Autism Speaks Bob Wright & Susanne Wright, May 1, 2006. Photo credit: Perry Hagopian. Photo contributed by Meg McCaffrey/Assistant Director of Media Relations

A prominent prosecutor who found his start at Fairfield University and the founders of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks have been tapped to speak at this year’s 62nd Commencement ceremony.

On May 20, Joseph P. Russoniello ’63 and Bob and Suzanne Wright will speak to the graduating class of 2012.

Russoniello has made a name for himself in law. He has prosecuted criminal and civil cases involving espionage, money laundering and public corruption. He is responsible for tightening laws on national security, gun ownership and child pornography.

His success with these cases garnered attention from the White House; President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the post of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California in 1982. He served until 1990 but returned once again in 2007 when President George W. Bush appointed him to the same position. His post ended in 2010.

Russoniello is actively involved with a number of civic and legal organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.

He graduated from Fairfield with a bachelor’s degree in history. After earning his Juris Doctor degree from New York University Law School, he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a special agent.

The second commencement speakers, Bob and Suzanne Wright, stand as integral members of the local Fairfield community, reaching to make gains  for the research of autism by fundraising through Autism Speaks. Founded by the couple in 2005, Autism Speaks is the world’s largest advocacy organization for autism, which aims to spread awareness about the disorder that affects 1 in 88 American children.

The Wrights’ journey in autism began when their grandson was diagnosed with the disorder.  Bob Wright, formerly the chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal, and Suzanne Wright have dedicated themselves to advocating for the needs of those on the autism spectrum and the families who are affected. The organization has been recognized globally.

On a national level, the founders of Autism Speaks provided their voices in support for the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which was amended and given additional grants by President Barack Obama in 2011. This law detailed the federal government’s promise to consider autism a health priority and an estimated $693 million was dedicated for more research and education of autism.

A chair at the Dolan School of Business is dedicated to Bob Wright. The Wrights have been residents of Fairfield for almost 30 years.

The ceremony will also feature those bestowed with honorary degrees: Jane E. Ferreira, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, Conn., an institution that uplifts women in society; prolific author Fr. Richard J. Clifford, S.J., who is also an honored scholar of the Old Testament and founding dean of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry; Fairfield alumnus Dr. Joseph Timpone ’80, B.S., M.D., a medical researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center; and Sister Claire Fitzgerald, Ph.D., founding director of Fairfield’s American Studies Program  and teacher of 64 years.

Last year, Honorable Maryanne Trump Barry delivered the commencement speech to the undergraduates while Navy Rear Admiral Brian Monahan spoke to the graduate class.


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