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Retired Army Colonel Receives Commencement Surprise

Retired U.S. Army Col. Jonathan Newmark thought he was accepting his master's degree at the University of Cincinnati's Dec. 12 Commencement only to be surprised with special recognition and a round of applause.

Date: 12/12/2015 1:30:00 PM
By: Rachel Richardson
Phone: (513) 556-5219
Photos By: Jay Yocis / UC Creative Services


Jonathan Newmark went to the University of Cincinnati’s Commencement ceremony Saturday to accept his master’s degree in music composition from the university’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).  

But UC had a surprise for the 62-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel and nationally known expert in chemical warfare: A rousing round of applause from thousands of graduates and their families and a special performance of part of the composition that earned him his graduate degree.  

“I was shocked,” Newmark said of the unexpected recognition.

Newmark’s degree and compositions – he’s written 15 in his two years at UC – represent the fulfillment of his 40-year dream of becoming a serious composer.  That long-standing love began in childhood, when the New York native began studying piano and viola in third grade and attended the preparatory divisions of the Juilliard School on weekends in high school. 


But it was medicine and later, the military that captured Newmark’s professional passions.  After completing his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, Newmark went on to complete residencies and fellowships in neurology at leading hospitals and universities across the nation.  

In 1993, he switched from the Army Reserve to active duty, rising to the rank of colonel and earning appointments as a consultant for chemical casualty care to the Army surgeon general. Newmark’s 20-year active military career saw him approving medical plans for the Iraq invasion, acting as a mass casualty planner dealing with threats of terrorism in the Middle East and serving as a primary physician for hundreds of soldiers stationed in the Central American jungle on humanitarian missions.

Jonatham Newmark shakes the hand of Dean Peter Landgren, dean of the UC College-Conservancy of Music.
Jonatham Newmark shakes the hand of Dean Peter Landgren, dean of the UC College-Conservancy of Music.

The clinical neurologist and specialist in medical responses to chemical and biological warfare and terrorism also has been tapped on missions by the U.S. State Department and FBI teams in responding to terrorism threats worldwide.   

The ink had hardly dried on Newmark’s retirement certificate when he applied to a select group of music schools, including UC’s CCM.  After being accepted at two other schools – and brushed off by others --  Newmark decided on UC for its world-class music composition program, as well as its strong academics and medical center that allowed him to continue treating patients part-time as an attending neurologist in the UC Medical Center’s Hoxworth Clinic.

“I applied to a bunch of high-quality schools but they refused to interview me because I was 59 and didn’t have a music degree,” Newmark said. “CCM was willing to take chances on someone who didn’t have an undergraduate music degree. This is something I wanted to do and CCM was crazy enough to allow me in.”

Returning to school 40 years later certainly marked an adjustment for the decorated Army veteran, who still manages to find time to work out three times a week with UC Army ROTC cadets a third his age.  

“I’m 30 years older than the other students. I’m older than the faculty. When we use cultural references, sometimes it goes haywire, but when we are talking music, there is absolutely no age difference at all,” he said.  

After graduation, Newmark plans to head back to his home outside Washington D.C. and continue working as a consultant for the Department of Homeland Defense while trying his hand as a freelance composer.  

“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” Newmark said of his time at UC.  “CCM has allowed me, in the old Army phrase, to become all I could be.”