Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., outgoing dean of the Graduate School of Social Service, receives the President’s Medal “for his collaborative and visionary leadership as an educator, and for his lasting impact on the University’s ability to lead well and serve wisely in the years ahead.” Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Fordham University has bestowed its highest honor, the prestigious President’s Medal, on Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., outgoing dean of the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS). Vaughan is retiring after 13 years as dean.

Joseph M. McShane, S.J. president of Fordham, presented Vaughan with the medal at the GSS diploma ceremony on May 20, calling him a “wise, patient, and loving patron saint.”

Faculty and administrators of GSS lauded Vaughan for his exceptional service to the school, admitting that the day was a bittersweet one for GSS. Under Vaughan’s tenure, GSS jumped to No. 11 in U.S. News & World Report national rankings, the highest in the school’s history. Its online MSW program is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“These achievements are primarily due to Peter,” said Sandra G. Turner, Ph.D., associate dean of GSS. “He is a visionary. He has always looked at what could be rather than what is.”

Vaughan’s distinguished social work career is rooted in his undergraduate days at Temple University, when during the Civil Rights movement he was involved in court watching and voter registration efforts. He later served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and found himself tending to the mental health needs of soldiers on the front lines.

For much of his career, Vaughan worked with communities of color, focusing especially on the health of African-American boys. He was a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and later became acting dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work before he came to Fordham.

In 2012, the National Association of Social Workers presented him with its Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award.

Vaughan served as dean of GSS for 13 years. Photo by Bruce Gilbert

“Ours is a profession of hope, and I never miss a chance to pass it on to students when I am able to,” Vaughan said at the GSS diploma ceremony, for which he served as commencement speaker.

“As you leave today to begin meaningful and illustrious careers, I hope you will live every day to make the world a better place—and keep hope alive.”

The President’s Medal is the highest honor that a president can bestow. Past recipients of the medal include the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the former Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,100 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in West Harrison, N.Y., the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College, University of London, in the United Kingdom.