Congratulations, Class of 2020!
The Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s (LKSOM) 118th commencement was arguably one of its most memorable. With the Class of 2020—along with everyone else—quarantined at home for the last two months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 8 ceremony was moved online with a live audience split between Zoom, YouTube and Facebook.
“I know this feels very odd having graduation in this fashion,” said John M. Daly, MD, FACS, Interim Dean and Dean Emeritus of LKSOM. “We certainly wish it was otherwise. But our feelings of celebration and congratulations are the same as if we were all together in person.”
With an average grade point average of 3.7, the Class of 2020 was already respected by Dr. Daly and the LKSOM faculty for its diligence. Since the onset of the outbreak in March, however, its members also become central to Temple Health’s pandemic response. They collected and helped funnel PPE to Temple’s front-line responders and clinicians; volunteered to transport supplies, equipment, and patients; distributed hundreds of daily meals in North Philadelphia; and helped transform the Liacouras Center into a temporary hospital.
“I was proud of you before COVID-19. Then I watched you spring into action to address the pandemic, and I was impressed,” Dr. Daly said. “You are a can-do group with fire in the belly to give back while you are taking in the knowledge and skills to be great physicians. You are truly ‘Temple strong.’”
The keynote address was delivered by Larry R. Kaiser, MD, FACS, who was LKSOM Dean and CEO of the Temple University Health System through the Class of 2020’s first three years. Today, he is a Managing Director in the healthcare division of the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal.
“I must tell you: Initially, I felt terrible that, after all the years, the hours of hard work, the emotional drain, the anxiety (at least for Step one), and the anticipation of finally coming to an end of this journey, that you would not be able to experience this commencement with your classmates, family, and friends, to have that taken away from you by this world-changing event,” Dr. Kaiser said. “But then it occurred to me, you are the generation who grew up online. So having this celebration today online really is not all that unique for you.”
Dr. Kaiser encouraged the new graduates to not be daunted by what they’ve experienced over the last two months.
“This pandemic could be the push we need to establish new models of how we provide and pay for healthcare to our entire population, not just some. Bottom line: Our safety and security are only as strong as the weakest links in the chain, and lots of ours are broken,” he said from his home office. “But remember, instability creates opportunity, a chance to rethink, remake, redo. And from a healthcare perspective, you and your colleagues will be key figures.”
Even with the online format, many commencement traditions were maintained, including the dedication of the yearbook, The Skull. Each year, the graduating class dedicates it to someone it collectively feels was instrumental to its education and student life at Temple. This year, yearbook co-editors Anita Wamakima and Shalonda Cook announced that honor had been bestowed upon Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, the George S. Peters, MD, and Louise C. Peters Chair and Professor of Surgery at LKSOM and Surgeon-in-Chief of the Temple University Health System.
“What we are experiencing will make us stronger, if that is the path we choose to take,” Dr. Goldberg said. “We may not see another pandemic like COVID-19, but I assure you there will be moments that test you. But you have been prepared for this. No one is more resilient than a Temple medical student.
“These weeks have made all of us ‘Temple tough,’ not just for our patients, but for ourselves. We have had to choose who we will be in this time of crisis,” she continued. “We must remain idealistic, believing we can make a difference.”
Class President Carlos Romero, MD, who will remain at Temple for his Internal Medicine residency, reminded his classmates to not become so immersed in the pursuit of evolving goals and the daily grind that they fail to appreciate they already embody all the traits that comprise a compassionate and capable doctor.
“When we stop to look around, we realize that we have reached the ideal we envisioned,” Dr. Romero said. “When we uncover this truth, we are once again reminded that we can already turn things into gold.”
When the time came to award the degrees, Scott K. Shore, PhD, Associate Dean of Graduate and Special Programs, and Gerald Sterling, PhD, Senior Associate Dean of Education, read the names of the graduates. As they did so, a photo of each, most dressed in cap and gown, was displayed onscreen, along with the student’s name, their specialty, the location of their residency, and, in the case of the master’s graduates, the title of their thesis.
Then Douglas Reifler, MD, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Medical Humanities, and Sarah Schulte, MD, a member of the Class of 2020 who will soon head to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for her Internal Medicine residency, read the Hippocratic Oath.
The ceremony came to an end with a gallery view of the graduates celebrating in their respective homes. One by one, an individual frame from the gallery was enlarged. As the rotation continued, viewers gradually logged off, but the graduates remained, celebrating together.