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Commencement 2023

Commencement ceremonies celebrate Class of 2023’s creativity, curiosity, compassion and courage. “You are more prepared and better equipped than any other graduating class to date.”

Video by Katie Gertler/Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; photo by Matt Miller.

In moments filled with reflection, humor and hope, Washington University School of Medicine celebrated the graduating Class of 2023 with Commencement and hooding ceremonies on Friday, May 12, and Monday, May 15, 2023. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, the recently retired director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and medical adviser to seven U.S. presidents, addressed the graduates at Monday’s MD Commencement ceremony. Fauci also received an honorary degree at the all-university ceremony.

Many in the WashU Medicine Class of 2023 started their programs just months before COVID-19 emerged as a global pandemic. “You figured out how to accomplish your goals in the midst of a three-year crisis filled with chaos and fear,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, in his address to doctor of medicine graduates. “Time and again I and our education team have seen you figure out how to achieve your goals under what I would call the harshest and most hostile conditions we have experienced as a generation. And because of this you are more prepared and better equipped than any other graduating class to date.”

‘Your journey has been truly exceptional’

At the MD ceremony, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, admired the graduates’ perseverance. “Consciously or subconsciously, each of you will carry an imprint of this public health crisis that intruded upon your formal education as well as on your personal lives. I have enormous respect for your dedication under these trying circumstances.”

Fauci addresses graduates

Scroll below for coverage of School of Medicine Commencement ceremonies, or jump to the ceremony for graduates of:

All-University Ceremony

Gathering on the historic Francis Olympic Field at the Washington University Danforth Campus, graduates of all university programs heard remarks from keynote speaker Sterling K. Brown. Sterling is a St. Louis native and an acclaimed actor and producer. He is a three-time Emmy winner and the first African American actor to receive the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Male Actor in a drama.

Brown encouraged graduates to draw on their upbringings as their foundations for life, but also to explore new perspectives and trust their inner voices as they choose their paths. “We replace fear with curiosity, knowing that growth requires discomfort. We become the next best version of ourselves, and we step away from home knowing that we will always be welcomed back.”

Following his address, Brown was hooded with an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Washington University.

Also among the honorary degree recipients was Anthony S. Fauci, MD, recently retired director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and medical adviser to seven U.S. presidents, who received a doctor of science degree. Fauci was the keynote speaker at the MD Commencement ceremony later in the day.

Following the conferral of degrees, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, PhD, addressed the graduates. Martin acknowledged that he and this graduating class began their time at Washington University together in August 2019 and praised the class’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You didn’t just survive. You got curious, you found your creativity, and you did everything you could to help those around you thrive, because you care. Graduates, you are more prepared for what comes next than any graduating class in recent history.” He urged them not to forget their own strength. “Go forth, Class of 2023, and show them what you’re made of. Remember your resilience, and use your creativity, your curiosity, your care, and your courage to change the world.”

Photos by Matt Miller, Washington University in St. Louis.

MD Ceremony

For the 110 graduates of doctor of medicine programs, the presence and shared wisdom of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci at their Commencement proved a thrilling capstone to a medical school journey that, for many, began just months before SARS-CoV-2 disrupted their education and millions of lives around the world. “We can think of no one who can give this address to this graduating class like Dr. Tony Fauci,” said Dean Perlmutter while introducing the keynote speaker.

In an address that outlined key lessons learned from the pandemic, Fauci encouraged medical school graduates to embrace and advocate for science and truth.

Dean’s remarks: David H. Perlmutter, MD

In his address to the graduates, Perlmutter also cautioned against inaction in the face of growing mistrust of science and medicine. Recalling conspiracy theories that took root during the pandemic, he warned that “these were not merely expressions of mistrust. They were outright rejections of the way we use science to determine the best medical care.”

These rejections of science, Perlmutter continued, include a federal judge’s recent decision to suspend FDA approval of mifepristone and government officials limiting clinical care of women and children based on theories that fit into a particular world view.

What, he asked the graduates, are you going to do?

“Today we give you one last teaching lesson at Washington University School of Medicine,” Perlmutter said, “and that lesson is about the two things that must be your north stars: Science and compassion.”

Science. The technological advances that have pushed medicine to unimaginable advances today — altering genes to prevent disease, developing a clinically tested vaccine in 11 months, treating illnesses long thought incurable — are possible, he said, only because of the “science and medicine pursued at the highest levels at academic medical centers like this one, where we push ourselves and test our hypotheses in the most rigorous ways.” “These advances can only come from a culture unwilling to accept unproven treatments, a community in which we generate evidence and follow it to wherever the science leads.”

Class of 2023 graduate Sarah Cohen, MD, MPH, introduces the Teacher of the Year Awards, presented to Steven Cheng, MD, professor of medicine, and Tammy Sonn, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Photo: Matt Miller

And compassion. “Just as critical as scientific innovation,” Perlmutter said, “is your humanity. Your ability to look patients in the eye with compassion and understanding. Your ability to explain a diagnosis and treatment plan to a fellow human being sitting in front of you…. If you can demonstrate the value of your expertise and explain the scientific basis of your diagnoses and treatment plans, you build a relationship based on trust rather than authority.”

“So what I am saying,” Perlmutter concluded, “is that you will fight back against the mistrust and the alternate agendas by drawing on all those things you have learned here in this place during the storm of COVID. Not just looking at the science, the evidence, not just the relentless pursuit of improvement but also the ability to extend understanding and compassion to every single patient.”

Class President’s remarks: Jennifer Lee, MD, Class of 2023

Lisa Moscoso, MD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs and professor of pediatrics, hoods MD Class President Jennifer Lee, MD. Photo: Matt Miller

In a speech that started by calling for a round of applause for the mentorship and unconditional support of the WashU faculty and administration, class president Jennifer Lee, MD, reflected on her class’s stoicism in the face of the global pandemic. “Even as we dealt with uncertainty after uncertainty,” she recalled, “our class came together to manufacture face shields, deliver food to our city’s most at risk populations, provide child care for health care workers in need, and create high yield summaries of COVID-19 research. I was and still am incredibly impressed and inspired by the students who spearheaded these efforts.” The efforts were among the projects WashU Medicine students quickly initiated or joined in the early months of the pandemic.

Photos by Matt Miller.

Audiology & Communication Sciences

AuD graduate Madelyn Birkelbach was the student marshal representing the audiology program.

The Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences celebrated a new generation of clinical audiologists and teachers of the deaf at its Commencement recognition ceremony on the medical campus.

Amanda Ortmann, PhD, assistant professor and director audiology studies, welcomed the graduates, and the friends and family who supported them along the way. Ortmann noted that the graduates came from undergraduate backgrounds as diverse as music, psychology, architecture and biology, brought together at one of the most selective and rigorous audiology and hearing science programs in the country. “We told them that it would be tough,” Ortmann said. “And it was. And they were up to the challenge. They were and are the cream of the crop.”

Among the graduates were Susan Elizabeth Jackson, earning the master of science in deaf education (MSDE), and Madelyn Nichole Birkelbach, earning the doctor of audiology (AuD). PACS faculty selected Jackson for the Antoinette Frances Dames Award, recognizing outstanding scholarship in teaching the hearing impaired. Birkelbach received the Max A. Goldstein Award for excellence and professional promise. Ortmann noted that the two awards represented only a sampling of the recognition garnered by the graduating class. Many of the graduates received scholarships and research awards, published papers in scientific journals, and have been applauded for their community service.

Introducing the 11 MSDE graduates, Casey Reimer, PhD, assistant professor and director of deaf education studies, encouraged celebration. “Please don’t hold your applause until the end! Every graduate deserves their own round of applause.” Reimer admired the graduates for their tenacity. “From what I’ve seen over the last two years, I’m confident that the children at your future employers will be in excellent hands. Bring your best selves to those children and families just as you have brought your best selves to us in PACs.”

Ortmann introduced the 12 students earning the clinical doctorate. “We have full confidence that you are going to change the lives of individuals and families in the hearing impaired community through excellent clinical care,” Ortmann said. “Your future patients and immediate team of coworkers are very lucky to have you.”

Biology & Biological Sciences

For the first time in its 50-year history, the Roy and Diana Vagelos Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences (DBBS) recognized graduates of its doctoral programs in a unique DBBS hooding ceremony, held in The 560 Music Center. Previously, DBBS graduates were recognized with other PhD candidates at the College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Studies Hooding and Recognition Ceremony.

Steven Mennerick, PhD, Interim Associate Dean for Graduate Education, opened the inaugural celebration, welcoming more than 60 DBBS and Medical Scientist Training Program bioscientists into the ranks of Doctors of Philosophy and commending them for their perseverance, creativity, hard work and achievement. 

In her address, Commencement speaker Barbara Schaal, PhD, Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor of Biology, shared a story about Carl Linnaeus. Arguably the greatest botanist in the world, she explained, tea plants died under his care — a reminder that sometimes even routine experiments fail. 

“In the course of your careers, you will have the opportunity to make major contributions in research, opportunities to chart new directions and opportunities to address the challenges that confront our society,” Schaal said. “Your success will depend not only on your great ideas and your hard work but also your personal resilience. When those tea plants die — and they might — be forgiving of yourself, be kind to yourself, and be understanding and forgiving to those around you when their own tea plants die.”

Occupational Therapy

The ceremony for the Program in Occupational Therapy recognized graduates of its 105th class, which included 53 receiving the doctor of occupational therapy, 39 earning the master of science in occupational therapy and two graduates receiving the doctor of philosophy in rehabilitation and participation science. Class marshals were Diana Castellanos for the doctoral program and Hailey Furio for the master’s degree program.

Lisa Tabor Connor, PhD, MSOT, OTR/L, the Elias Michael Executive Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, opened the celebration by acknowledging that the skills this graduating class employed during the pandemic — adjusting, adapting and remaining flexible — are the same skills they will use to serve their clients. She emphasized the importance of being a lifelong learner and of relating to clients as individuals with individual needs and goals. “I wish you joy in the experiences you will have as you help people live their lives. The faculty and staff are proud to have been part of your growth, and we’re proud to call you our colleagues. Congratulations and warmest wishes.”

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The program’s Commencement speaker was Brittany Conners, OTD, OTR/L, CEO of Optimistic Theory, a company that specializes in providing accessible and preventive mental health services for adults. She is also co-author of the textbook “Introduction to Occupational Therapy, Sixth Edition.” 

“Optimism illuminates a path through the unknown,” Conners said. She encouraged the class to remember their own strengths, lean on empathy and gratitude, take care of themselves and others, and above all, to preserve their optimism. “Be an illustration of optimism. You’ve got this.” 

Faculty speaker Marit Watson, OTD, OTR/L, PMH-C, instructor in occupational therapy and medicine, advised the graduates to seek mentorship, reframe uncertainty as enthusiasm, challenge with compassion, be kind, dream big, and “sparkle brilliantly.”

Student speakers were Rachel Heeb from the PhD program, Nathan Baniqued from the doctor of occupational therapy program and Madelyn Yoo from the master’s degree program.

Physical Therapy

The ceremony for the Program in Physical Therapy recognized 95 graduates, including one receiving the doctor of philosophy in movement science and 94 receiving the doctor of physical therapy (DPT). Gammon M. Earhart, PT, PhD, FAPTA, associate dean for physical therapy and program director, addressed the graduates, saying, “You are adaptable, patient and kind, and for that we thank you.”

Earhart introduced faculty speaker Sylvia Czuppon, PT, DPT, OCS, associate professor of physical therapy and of orthopedic surgery, who was chosen to speak by the Class of 2023. Czuppon, a three-time WashU graduate and alumnus of the PT program, assured students that even early in their careers, “Your patients will be lucky to have you as their therapist.” She also urged them to not let fear limit their opportunities, and to remember that “in the end, what matters is that your patients and their families feel heard.” WashU PT faculty, she said, would always be behind them 100%.

Among the graduates were Amani Michelle Taylor, recognized for excellence in clinical education with the Beatrice Schulz Award; Stacey Chen and Tina Wu, recognized for exceptional contributions in research with the Steven J. Rose Research Award; and Abigail Kathryn Schrumpf, recipient of the Director’s Award for outstanding and impactful presence in the classroom, clinic and/or community.

Student speakers Tyler Blake and Janae O’Bryant reflected on their nontraditional paths to the DPT program — Blake worked as a math teacher and Bryant as an officer in the Navy — and emphasized the need to “celebrate your successes as much as you learn from your mistakes, and always be kind to whoever is in front of you.”

Linda Van Dillen, PT, PhD, FAPTA, introduced Chao Cao, who received the doctor of philosophy in movement science and was hooded by his faculty mentor, Bettina Mittendorfer, PhD. Steve Ambler, PT, DPT, PhD, MPH, then presented the remaining graduates with doctor of physical therapy diplomas.

Earhart concluded the ceremony, saying, “You did it! Despite many challenges — some predictable and others completely unexpected — you made it to your goal.” Faculty joined graduates and their families for a reception immediately following the ceremony.

Master’s Programs

A joint Commencement ceremony recognized graduates of master’s programs in applied health behavior research, biomedical informatics, biostatistics and data science, biostatistics, clinical investigation, genetic counseling, medical physics, and population health sciences, as well as the TL1 predoctoral and postdoctoral program.

LJ Punch, MD, addressed the graduates. Punch is medical director of the Bullet Related Injury Clinic and executive director of “The T,” which works to reduce the impact of trauma. Formerly on the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine, he left academic medicine in the wake of the pandemic to expand focus on multiple sources of trauma disproportionately experienced by Black people, including COVID-19, bullet injuries and bullet dependence.

Student remarks were delivered by Hayna Ahmed, who earned the master of science in applied health behavior research, and Katherine Santana, who earned the master of science in biomedical informatics.