BU Trustee Sharon Ryan (Sargent ’70) to Deliver the 2023 Sargent College Commencement Address

Boston University Trustee, community volunteer, and philanthropist Sharon Ryan (Sargent ’70) will deliver the Sargent College commencement address on May 21. Ryan will address undergraduate and graduate students from the Sargent Class of 2023 earning degrees in health disciplines including health science, human physiology, nutrition, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech, language & hearing sciences.

A retired occupational therapist, Ryan’s decade-long practice focused on adult and geriatric education as well as the supervision of students completing their occupational therapy training. Ryan came to Boston University in the late 1960s from her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa. to attend what was (and still is) the #1 U.S. News &World Report ranked Occupational Therapy program in the nation. Sargent proved a good fit for the gregarious and human-centered student whose favorite classes were those which trained future therapists how to relate to patients. After graduation, Ryan’s first job was as an occupational therapist at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh. She then moved to New York City, pouring herself into her OT work at the city hospital where she’d been a pediatric intern. She went on to become chief of occupational therapy at a large nursing home in New York. After moving to Houston, Ryan took a professional break to raise her two children and began what would become a new vocation of dedicated service and community volunteerism.

As a BU Trustee, Ryan’s leadership and contributions can be seen across campus. She and her husband Robert have supported BU scholarship, student services, and programs, demonstrating their shared commitment to education and their belief in the power of education to transform lives. In particular, they have been major supporters of building projects including the Yawkey Center for Student Services, the Marsh Plaza restoration project, and the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground. She talked to Bostonia in 2019 about the pivotal role the Howard Thurman Center plays on campus, as a place where students can feed their souls as well as their minds: “The Thurman Center is a place for students to go to figure out who they are, who they can become, who others are around them, and how we all fit together.”

Ryan is perhaps best-known on campus for her namesake Ryan Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Founded in 2006 with a gift from the Ryans, the interdisciplinary practice, which includes the BU Physical Therapy Center, brings together medical, nutrition, and physical therapy providers with the goal of treating the whole person. The premier site for interprofessional practice and education serves as an on-campus clinical center where Sargent students gain valuable hands-on patient experience while under the mentorship of renowned Sargent faculty and clinicians. In addition to patient treatment and student education, the Center is the site of clinical trials for research on knee osteoarthritis, reducing opioid dependence, and addressing low back pain with the use of exoskeleton technology.  In 2017, the Ryans endowed the Ryan Summer Fellowship which provides summer support for a Sargent student engaged in research relevant to the mission of the Center.

As an engaged BU alumna, Ryan has served on the Boston University Board of Trustees for 23 years, including as current chair of the academic affairs committee and former chair of the student affairs committee from 2003–2009.  She served on the University’s Capital Campaign Steering Committee and has been a dedicated member of the Sargent College Dean’s Advisory Board since its inception (as well as its predecessor, the Dean’s Advisory Council, dating back to the 1990s).  She has also served as an inaugural member of Boston University’s Black Alumni Leadership Council since November 2016.  In 2001, Ryan received the Boston University Alumni Award for exemplary service to the University community. 

Ryan’s support extends to a variety of other civic, educational, and cultural institutions. She has served as chair of the board of trustees of the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and vice chair of the Tubman Family Alliance. She was previously on the executive committee of The Children’s Theatre Board of Governors and is a past president and current trustee of the Breck Episcopal College Preparatory School. She is also a past vice president and former member of the board of directors of the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF). In 2018, she and her husband partnered with AOTF to create the Robert and Sharon Ryan Endowed Scholarship for occupational therapy students.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa., Ryan completed her undergraduate degree in occupational therapy at BU Sargent College and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The BU Sargent College Convocation will be available to livestream from our website starting at 9 a.m. on May 21. The event will be followed by the All University Commencement at 1 p.m. For more information about graduation activities at Boston University, please visit BU’s commencement page.