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‘Showing Up:’ Celebrating the Class of 2021

Collaboration, camaraderie and persistence unify School of Medicine graduates.

Video: Huy Mach and Gaia Remerowski/Washington University School of Medicine

For the first time, Washington University School of Medicine celebrated Commencement interprofessionally — recognizing the graduates of all of the school’s academic programs at a single, outdoor ceremony. In addition to the in-person ceremony, held May 21 on Francis Olympic Field, several programs held individual virtual ceremonies for their graduates.

Keep scrolling for coverage of School of Medicine Commencement ceremonies, or jump to the ceremony for graduates of:

School of Medicine Commencement Ceremony

The School of Medicine Commencement ceremony replaced the traditional universitywide ceremony, which was split into smaller events to accommodate public health guidelines. The school’s unified recognition of its health professions graduates concluded an academic year that profoundly impacted the medical school community.

Commencement address: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivers the Commencement address at Francis Field on May 21, 2021. MATT MILLER/WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

NBA great and social justice advocate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivered the university’s Commencement address virtually.

In his address, Abdul-Jabbar recalled the transformative moments of his life: participating in the Cleveland Summit at 20 years old to decide, with other Black athletes, whether to support Muhammad Ali’s stance as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War; resolving to become a great basketball player because greatness on the court would give him the platform to have a positive impact on his community; and reinventing himself after his basketball career to become a writer and an activist.

Every doorway and path in life, Abdul-Jabbar said, “will challenge what you think you know about the world and about yourself. Each time you open that new door, you’re a different person from the last time.”

Dean’s remarks: David H. Perlmutter, MD

Dean David H. Perlmutter, MD, George and Carol Bauer Dean of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, addresses graduates at the school’s 2021 Commencement ceremony.

In his address to the Class of 2021, David H. Perlmutter, MD, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, reflected on the demands and uncertainties the Medical Campus has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What was it that kept us going in the midst of the storm with shortages?” he asked. “Purpose and team.”

For many in health and medicine, Perlmutter said, “this past year was actually a clarifying time, the moment in our lives when we saw most clearly why we had dedicated ourselves to this profession.”

“We are now thankfully heading toward a return to normalcy,” Perlmutter said. “But as you move forward in your lives as doctors, I ask you to carry with you that sense of camaraderie and purpose that has helped us through this year. Let it be the fuel, let it be the engine, let it be the force within you that powers your careers.”

Student remarks

Student speakers from each of the six represented degree programs delivered pre-recorded speeches. Many reflected on the past year’s pandemic and racial justice reckoning, noting their intersections as calls to action for the health professions.

Student speaker Connie Gan, MD, (center) spoke for the medical program about the protective value of perseverance, compassion and community. Photo: Matt Miller
Savannah Martin, DPT, student speaker for the Program in Physical Therapy, recalled the camaraderie of participating in a schoolwide “Shrek” performance and called on graduates to increase collaboration among health professions.

Keynote speaker: Kimberly Manning, MD

Dean Perlmutter next introduced Kimberly Manning, MD, selected by School of Medicine graduates to deliver the keynote address. Manning, who is a professor and associate vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Department of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, is nationally recognized for her social justice advocacy, mentorship and teaching. Perlmutter described her as “a national celebrity on social media” who leads conversations on race, equity and compassionate, culturally responsive medical care. Manning told graduates that the most important part of being the best for patients comes down to two words: Show up.

“And that’s what you did,” Manning continued. “In the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19, you showed up. In the longstanding pandemics of social injustice and racism, you showed up. For your loved ones, your classmates, your partners, your communities, your patients, you showed up. And this, my friends, will be your legacy.”

The Declaration of Geneva

Before leading medical students in their recitation of the Oath of Geneva, Eva Aagaard, MD, senior associate dean and associate vice chancellor for medical education and the Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Professor of Medical Education, told the graduates that their White Coat Ceremony four years ago was her first official act as a faculty member at WashU. “And you were incredibly warm and welcoming to me. And over this last four years, I have had the honor and privilege of seeing you develop into amazing physicians. And I am so proud.”

Following recently updated guidance from the CDC, vaccinated graduates were able to remove their masks in each other’s company. Photo: Matt Miller

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Audiology & Communication Sciences

The Program in Audiology & Communication Sciences awarded degrees to students graduating from the Master’s in Deaf Education and Doctor of Audiology programs. Faculty, students and colleagues joined the virtual ceremony to share well wishes with the Class of 2021.

Amanda Ortmann, PhD, director of audiology studies and assistant professor of otolaryngology, began the ceremony with a look to the future. “We are enormously proud of the 25 professionals who will take our message to the reaches of the nation to serve of our principal goal: improving the lives of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and their families,” she said.

Heather Grantham, PhD, director of deaf education studies and associate professor of otolaryngology, commended the graduates for their hard work, particularly during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. “In a way, our graduates had already distinguished themselves before they arrived. They were admitted into one of the most rigorous and intensive programs in the country,” she shared. “We told them it would be tough, and it was. But they were up to the challenge.”

Amanda Ortmann, PhD, director of audiology studies and assistant professor of otolaryngology, addressed graduates in the virtual PACS ceremony.

Ortmann and Grantham presented two prestigious awards to graduating students. Megan Elizabeth Merry, MSDE, received the Antoinette Frances Dames Award for outstanding scholarship in teaching the hearing impaired; Amelia Jane Shillington Mainardi received the Max A. Goldstein Award for excellence and professional promise. Both winners were chosen by PACS faculty.

During the ceremony, graduates shared their favorite Washington University memories and plans for the future, and thanked faculty for their teaching and mentorship. Many reflected on the close-knit PACS community, recalling carpool rides to class, Friendsgiving dinners and working together at the Central Institute for the Deaf.

“I have never been around such an amazing, dedicated group of curious lifelong learners who are so incredibly kind and supportive of each other,” said Charlotte Fraser Brown, MSDE.

“I think the future holds innovation and opportunities for us as fourth-years and as clinicians moving forward,” said Margaret Jane Butler, AuD. “We have more opportunities to impact people in the future than we ever could have without PACS behind us.”

Occupational Therapy

The virtual ceremony for the Program in Occupational Therapy recognized 82 graduates; two in the doctor of philosophy in rehabilitation and participation science program, 42 in the doctor of occupational therapy program and 40 in the master of science in occupational therapy program. Makeda Nicole Jackson was class marshal for the doctoral degree graduates; Danielle Lenice Pollard was class marshal for graduates of the master’s degree program.

Lisa Tabor Connor, PhD, MSOT, OTR/L, the Elias Michael Executive Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, told the graduates, “This may not be the commencement day you imagined; however, the unconventional nature of this ceremony does not diminish your achievements as soon-to-be graduates of one of the top OT programs in the country.”

Catherine Hoyt, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, instructor in occupational therapy, in neurology and in pediatrics, delivered the OT program’s Commencement address.

Commencement speaker Catherine Hoyt, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, instructor in occupational therapy, in neurology and in pediatrics, is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the program and in her field. She encouraged graduates to live and work by their core values. “This work is hard. It can be heavy and weigh on you. That is why it is so important that the actions you choose align with your values, so you can push through those difficult moments.”

Faculty speaker Jessica Dashner, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of occupational therapy and of neurology, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic provided students the opportunity to build flexibility, adaptability and resilience — the very skills that, as practitioners, they will foster in their patients. “Share those skills of compassion, understanding, flexibility, adaptability and resilience with those around you. The world needs us, now more than ever, to share this perspective and try to make meaningful changes.”

Master of science in occupational therapy graduate Chelsia Bradley offered advice for navigating the many decision points that lie ahead. “Whenever you are unsure, ask: ‘What feeling will this decision lead me to? Pride, gratitude or regret?'”
Doctoral program student speaker Brendan Cook encouraged his fellow graduates to use their power and privilege to challenge and dismantle social injustices.

Student speakers were Brendan Cook from the doctoral program and Chelsia Lovelace Bradley from the master’s degree program.

“I am so excited to leave the future of the profession in your hands,” Connor concluded.

Physical Therapy

Gammon M. Earhart, PT, PhD, FAPTA, director of the Program in Physical Therapy, addressed doctoral candidates at the virtual hooding ceremony, saying, “Today we recognize you, 82 amazing students who have worked diligently over the past three years.” She acknowledged the challenging circumstances and thanked students for being not only “really smart” but also “adaptable, patient and kind.”

Steven Ambler, PT, DPT, PhD, MPH, associate director of professional curriculum in physical therapy, introduced faculty speaker Beth Crowner, PT, DPT, NCS, MPPA, professor of physical therapy and of neurology.

Crowner, who was chosen to speak by the Class of 2021, remembered how the new graduates pulled together as the world seemed to be falling apart, saying, “Last spring we all embarked on a journey into the unknown as we suddenly had to adapt everything about our personal and professional lives.” She expressed her admiration for the students’ response to adversity by saying, “Your resilience and camaraderie as COVID went viral have been unprecedented” and assured them that, “You may think you’ve reached the end … your amazing trip is only beginning.”

Among the graduates were Alexander Borys, DPT, and Kathleen O’Neal Doherty, DPT, recognized for excellence in clinical education with the Beatrice Schulz Award; Nicholas Youmans, DPT, recognized for exceptional contributions in research with the Steven J. Rose Research Award; and Kyle Flynn, DPT, recipient of the Director’s Award for outstanding and impactful presence in the classroom, clinic and/or community.

Savannah Martin, DPT, was chosen by her peers to be the student speaker. She talked about the strong bonds formed among her classmates, saying, “While I don’t believe luck had much influence on our success, I do believe our community had something to do with it.”

Jennifer Stith, PT, PhD, LCSW, director of education, presented the graduates of the professional clinical doctorate curriculum. Earhart read each student’s name as his or her photo appeared alongside a prewritten message of thanks to family, friends and faculty.

Earhart concluded the ceremony by reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 and the students’ adaptability, saying, “Despite many challenges — some predictable and others completely unexpected — you made it!”

Immediately following the ceremony, program faculty and staff joined graduates for a virtual toast and reception to celebrate.

Master’s program graduates: MSCI, AHBR & MPHS

Graduates of the Master of Science Applied Health Behavior research (AHBR) program were recognized at the schoolwide ceremony on May 21. AHBR graduate Elizabeth Ainsworth was among the ceremony’s student speakers. She drew from her background in biomedical engineering to describe the resilience her class showed persisting through a pandemic. In engineering, she said, when you design something new, “the foundation of the design is built upon the material you choose. The goal is to create something that will last, that will bend without breaking. You’re manufacturing resiliency.”

The Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program recognized its 16 graduates at a virtual ceremony on May 20. Speakers were Eva Aagaard, MD, the Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Professor of Medical Education, associate vice chancellor for medical education, and senior associate dean for education, as well as Elvin Geng, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Center of Dissemination and Implementation.

The Master of Population Health Sciences (MPHS) program will hold a virtual ceremony for graduates on May 24. Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery, director of the Population Health Sciences Division and deputy director of the Institute for Public Health, will lead the ceremony in honoring our graduates.

Division of Biology & Biological Sciences

Graduates of the Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences (DBBS) were conferred their PhDs at the College of Arts & Sciences virtual recognition ceremony on May 21.