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University of Rhode Island graduates applaud during the school’s 131st commencement in this file photo. Thousands of people are expected to attend this year’s undergraduate commencement ceremony May 19.

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, who led the fight for health insurance parity for those with mental health and substance use disorders, will be the speaker at the University of Rhode Island’s 133rd Commencement, Sunday, May 19.

Kennedy will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by the University during its main undergraduate commencement ceremony, which will begin at 12:30 p.m. on the Quadrangle of the Kingston Campus. He will be among five honorary degree recipients.

“We are honored to have former Congressman Kennedy deliver the commencement address to our graduates, their families and friends and our faculty,” URI President David M. Dooley said. “His address to the URI community could not have come at a more important time for the University and the nation as a whole as we seek to more fully address mental health issues and neurological disorders. The congressman’s courage and determination led to bipartisan approval of landmark legislation he sponsored, which has made us a better, more compassionate and more inclusive country.”

During his 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, Kennedy fought to end discrimination against those with mental illness, substance use disorders and other brain diseases. Founder of The Kennedy Forum and DontDenyMe.org; co-Founder of One Mind and Psych Hub, and former commissioner on the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, Kennedy will address an audience of about 15,000.

He is best known as the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, (Federal Parity Law), which was passed with bipartisan support, and signed into law by President George W. Bush Oct. 3, 2008. The law provides millions of Americans, previously denied care, with access to mental health and addiction treatment by requiring insurance companies to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression and addiction, no more restrictively than illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.

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