As Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., put on his cap and gown and prepared for his first commencement ceremony as dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, he took a moment to reflect on the importance of the day.
“This is a momentous occasion when we pause to recognize the accomplishments of the students,” he said. “We have tried to equip them with the necessary tools to go out and transform lives, and hopefully we have also inspired them to want to serve our global community. We view this day with great pride, because we know they are prepared and they are going to go out there and uphold the name of the Miller School of Medicine.”
Not far away, in a room full of loud, exhilarated new doctors preparing to join the May 11 commencement procession, Eva Williams, an M.D./M.P.H. graduate, summed up a deeply felt sentiment: “I’m very excited for today,” said Dr. Williams, who is heading to the University of Southern California for a residency in plastic surgery. “It’s graduation! We’re going to be doctors SO soon. All these years of hard work are finally coming together.”
The students, the 64th class to graduate from the Miller School, then followed university leadership and faculty in a procession to the auditorium at the Watsco Center, met by the cheers and whistles of family and friends. Dean Ford welcomed them all.
“Today, you will officially become physicians, which gives you the remarkable opportunity to prevent illness and help those in need of medical care,” he said. “During your four years at the Miller School, we have endeavored to provide you with the most advanced information … but above all, we reminded you to let the qualities that come from your heart – compassion, patience, empathy, persistence and respect – guide you.”
University of Miami President Julio Frenk also congratulated the students. “You will carry the imprint of this place in your lives in ways that extend beyond your ability to treat a patient, improve population health, or advance science,” he said. “Earning this degree has required your commitment, your work, your focus and your discipline.”
“As you take your education into the world, you take with you three principles that guide us as an institution, and that I hope will guide your participation in society,” he said. The first principle is respectful disagreement, the second is the pursuit of truth, and the third, “without which the first two fall short,” is an embrace of difference.
“As you move through the world, help your communities, your patients, cultivate a true culture of belonging, as we try to do in our own university community.”
Presiding UM trustee Ronald G. Stone introduced the honorary degree recipient, Sir George Alleyne, director emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization and chancellor emeritus of the University of the West Indies. During his distinguished career, he also served as the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, and as a visiting professor in the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Before the ceremony President Frenk described Sir Alleyne as “the most prominent physician in Caribbean history, an amazing leader, and the person who put non-communicable diseases on the global agenda.”
In presenting a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, to Sir Alleyne, President Frenk said he has had the “privilege of witnessing very closely the transformative contributions of Sir Alleyne to public health. … Both as a scientist and as an advocate with the most influential decision-makers, his legacy as a leader in public health, his compassion, and his willingness to engage in some of the most vexing challenges of our times are unmatched.”
Sir Alleyne described for the graduating class the values and principles that have guided him over the years. “Let me speak of values as fundamental beliefs that motivate attitudes and guide actions,” he said. “The first of these is compassion.” Science with compassion is an important combination, “as together they make a recipe for the exercise of much of what is human in us.
“The second value I hold dear is equity. Inequity is a matter of morality, fairness and justice – it refers to the differences that are unnecessary and unjust.” He received applause when he said, “I find it unacceptable, I find it unconscionable, that there are differences in health that are beyond individual volition. There is no intrinsic reason why one life should be more valuable than another or why one set of persons should be less healthy than another for reasons beyond their control.
“The next value that has supported me is the value of partnerships,” he said. “I believe that it is only through a myriad of partnerships that the world will ever approximate global health equity.”
After the keynote address, the graduates were presented by Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, and the other education deans. The students walked across the stage one by one to be hooded. In addition to M.D.s, many students received a Master of Public Health degree, a Ph.D., a Master of Science in genomic medicine, or an M.B.A. in health sector management and policy. Several students graduated with research distinction.
The student speaker, selected by her classmates, was Lindsey Finch. Dr. Finch earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 2003 and a law degree from Harvard in 2007, and she began the M.D. program at the Miller School in 2015. She has served as executive director of the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service, or DOCS, for the past year.
Dr. Finch talked to her classmates about the inevitability of failure, and her own long road from an unfulfilling law career to her original goal of becoming a doctor. Failure “can be a massive disappointment such as job loss, or a small but equally devastating experience such as the withdrawal of support of a mentor or a friend. These experiences can help you recognize the humanity of your patients, of your colleagues, of those who are less fortunate than you are.
“It is the humility to recognize that the person experiencing homelessness, or the person who uses injectable drugs, is not that much different than you are. The humility to recognize that without all of the prestigious titles or awards or accolades, we are all essentially the same and that small and unglamorous acts of kindness and identity can mean the world to our patients.”
The students were led in the Hippocratic Oath, adapted for the Declaration of Geneva, by Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy, and Robin Straus-Furlong, M.D. Class of ’82 and president of the Medical Alumni Association.
“Your families, friends and loved ones are unquestionably thrilled with your accomplishments, as is your alma mater,” Dr. Straus-Furlong said. “You are continued evidence that the University of Miami has one of the finest medical programs in the country.”
At the conclusion of the event, Dean Ford congratulated the new physicians: “Doctors and fellow colleagues, this is a day you will remember for the rest of your lives. From this day forward, you hold the sacred privilege of caring for your patients. They will put their trust and well-being in your hands, and we know you will honor and treasure this responsibility.
“On behalf of the faculty and the entire University of Miami, we congratulate you!”
Many associate deans, chairs and other faculty members joined the commencement ceremony to celebrate their students. “This is a great, joyous occasion,” said Joan St. Onge, M.D., senior associate dean for graduate medical education. “Commencement is the start of the next phase of our students’ careers as physicians. They go into training, they start life as a Miller School of Medicine graduate and physician, and it’s incredibly important that we mark it in a very ceremonial way, and also with a lot of happiness.”
A commencement photo gallery is available here.