Miller School’s Class of 2020 Celebrates Virtual Commencement with Shared Sense of Achievement

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Ronald J. Trapana, M.D. ’77, and Joycelyn J. Lawrence, M.D., were among the many University of Miami Miller School of Medicine alumni who celebrated their sons and daughters from a distance at the Class of 2020 virtual commencement on May 9.

“Your mother, brother and I are very proud of you for your accomplishments,” said Dr. Trapana, congratulating his son Justin for earning his M.D. degree. Those words of praise where echoed by Dr. Lawrence, a 1999 UM family medicine resident and former medical director of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation School Health Initiative, whose daughter Jasmine joined the ranks of Miller School physicians with M.D./M.P.H. degrees: “I'm very proud of my daughter Jasmine for joining these graduates.”

President Julio Frenk speaks at the virtual commencement ceremony. Hilarie Bass, chair of the Board of Trustees, is behind him.

For the commencement, UM President Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Dean Henri Ford, M.D., M.H.A., and four other leaders spoke from separate podiums six feet apart on a stage. “This is truly a historic moment because for the very first time, we are hosting a virtual commencement ceremony for our graduating medical students,” said Dean Ford. “We are adhering to social distancing protocols and wearing masks when not speaking, so wherever you are, you are safe from us!”

Meanwhile, the 180 graduates in the Class of 2020, along with spouses, children, parents, other family members and friends, watched the virtual ceremony from around the world. In addition to their medical degrees, many students received master’s degrees in complementary fields or earned a distinction in research.

Congratulating the Miller School’s 65th graduating class, President Frenk praised the students’ adaptability in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We transitioned to online learning and had to make decisions that would best safeguard your health and safety,” he said. “When clinical experiences had to be rethought, your ingenuity and commitment to the common good resulted in volunteer efforts to support patients, families, and your colleagues on the front lines.”

But President Frenk also added a note of caution. “You can learn lessons for future mobilizations from the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” he said. “This will not be the last emergency or pandemic you will face during your careers.”

Dean Ford also emphasized the importance of being prepared for the future. “Never before has a class of physicians entered the next phase of their medical career at a time of such great need,” he said. “We are confident that your Miller School education has prepared you for this great challenge.”

Giving the commencement speech, Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy, challenged the Class of 2020 to be advocates for building a more equitable health care system.

“The COVID pandemic has laid bare the structural inequality in our society, teaching us that high-quality care applies only to a minority of our population,” he said. “While COVID threatens us all, the outcomes are very different. The inequities in our patchwork system of health care threaten the fabric of our entire society. We need to apply the principles of fairness, compassion and care to everyone, guided by evidence-based science at the population health level.”

Dr. Gardner noted the essential role that hospitals including UHealth Tower, Jackson Memorial Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center play in treating COVID-19 patients. “Acting in concert, these institutions were transformed to serve all who needed health care,” he said. “We have seen heroism everywhere on the front lines – doctors and nurses putting themselves in harm’s way to help our patients. It’s a remarkable moment and we can be proud of our ability to rise to the challenge.”

Camille Scott, M.D./M.P.H., watched the ceremony with her family in Chino Hills, California. “My sister got her undergraduate degree in the morning, and Sunday we celebrated my brother’s birthday, as well as Mother’s Day,” she said. “It was great to be with them in this time of social distancing.”

Dr. Scott commended the Miller School leaders and faculty for organizing a “very meaningful” virtual commencement ceremony. “It was thoughtful of the hosts to be on stage with masks, standing six feet apart,” she added. “I’m hopeful we can have a reunion sometime in 2021.”

Sumedh Shah, M.D., ’20, was selected by his classmates to give the student address. “Together, we have approached the boundaries of human suffering and come back with lessons of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds,” he said. “We have fought for patients, protected each other, partied hard, and learned the art of medicine in order to effectuate change in the world.”

In his talk, Dr. Shah cited several thought-provoking comments from his medical school experience, beginning with “To care, you must first understand.” That means patients need physicians who understand what to do next, as well as care about their conditions.  He also highlighted the importance of self-care. “Medicine, as rewarding as it is, is also demanding,” he said. “You need to protect the time required to rejuvenate and recuperate.  A well doctor begets wellness in patients.”

Presiding Trustee Hilarie Bass, chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees, Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D., executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, and grand marshal Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, took part in the in-person ceremony. Phillip Tran, UM Catholic chaplain, gave the invocation, and the Miller School’s musical group, Doctor’s Note, sang the national anthem and the alma mater.

Ana I. Gonzalez, M.D. ’85, welcomed the graduates to the University of Miami Medical Alumni Association “I am confident that with the knowledge and skills you learned at the Miller School of Medicine, you will go on to rewarding and fulfilling medical careers,” said Dr. Gonzalez, who is president of the alumni association.

After leading the students in the Hippocratic Oath, adapted for the Declaration of Geneva, Dean Ford offered a virtual toast to the Class of 2020: “You now have an extraordinary gift to share with the world. I urge you to be kind and to be humble. Be thoughtful and compassionate. Keep learning and questioning, and always put the interests of your patients first.  Make yourself proud. Congratulations again and have a wonderful evening!”

Watch the commencement ceremony here.

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