SHU Graduate Awarded Curtis Medal of Honor

News Story: May 1, 2010
John A. Vales, right, received the Curtis Medal from President Cernera.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, has amassed awards and accomplishments that are hard to top: In his illustrious career the Connecticut native has served as executive producer for nine Olympic Games, won an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement, co-created Saturday Night Live and produced eight of the top ten most-watched television events in history.

Yet, during his commencement address to the Sacred Heart University class of 2010 on Sunday, May 16th, Ebersol acknowledged someone in the crowd he felt deserved greater acclaim for his act of generosity and selflessness. Speaking to the 861 graduates and about 5,000 of their family and friends during the University’s 44th commencement on Campus Field, Ebersol singled out John A. Vales, who moments before became the first student recipient of the University’s Bishop Walter W. Curtis Medal of Honor.

Vales, 21, of Somers, New York, who graduated with a degree in business administration, was honored for donating a part of his liver last October to a fellow student who was gravely ill. Vales had never met nursing student Alison Cubbelotti, 20, of Trumbull, but responded to an email message her mother had circulated through the SHU community about her daughter’s battle with a rare and deadly liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis and her desperate need for a transplant.

“My daughter’s here because of him. We really came that close (to losing her). She was bedridden,” said Joseph Cubbelotti, Alison’s father.

“We were preparing for the worst. He saved her. He saved our friend. He totally gave Alison her life back,” said Jennifer Burke, 20, of North Andover, Mass., a social work major going into her senior year.

Courtney Cuomo, 20, of Courtland Manor, New York, a nursing major, said Alison calls Vales “her angel.”

Alison Cubbelotti, John Vales
and President Cernera

“He gave me my entire life back. In his senior year of college he decided to take time and do such a selfless act to give me a gift that he doesn’t want to be thanked for. He is the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I don’t know how else to express my love and thanks to him. He’s enabled me to have my life back and continue on in my pursuit of becoming a nurse. I’ve been sick for a long time and I’ve been in the hospital a lot,” Alison Cubbelotti said. She lost a year of school to her illness and will be a junior beginning with the Fall semester. She will graduate in 2012.

University President Anthony Cernera said Vales’ selfless act led to weeks in the hospital, four surgeries – three more than expected, and a much longer convalescence than anticipated. “We honor John for his commitment to living out the best ideals of this University,” Cernera said.

“We’re very proud of him; we’re proud of what he’s done. It’s something he wanted to do, something he feels he was meant to do. His belief in God brought him to do this. We all gained from the fruits of this. We’ve met some great people, especially Alison,” John Vales, said of his son’s act.

John Vales, the father, said he is also proud of SHU and Dr. Cernera. “He is a special man. He was beyond helpful. He came to (Yale-New Haven) hospital to visit and he helped John with his studies; a man as busy as he must be. John had to take a couple of months off (from school). Dr. Cernera was instrumental in getting him back on track academically and getting him the help he needed to be here today graduating with his class,” Vales said.

“We feel that, if it wasn’t at Sacred Heart this might not have happened somewhere else. This is a special place and I’m hoping my daughter comes here in a couple of years from now,” he said.

John Vales, the recent SHU graduate, said receiving the Curtis Medal of Honor means a great deal to him and his family. “My family is really happy and proud,” Vales said. “It was my mom’s birthday yesterday (May 15). I’m going to give it to her,” he said.

“There’s nobody here today who was or is as impressive as your classmate, John Vales,” Ebersol said.

To watch video from Undergraduate Commencement, click here.  To watch a photo slideshow, click here.