It was the most musical convocation ceremony in recent history.
First came the invocation from Isaac K. Wood, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs. His spoken-word rendition of the hit song, “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams got the graduates and audience clapping along in the Siegel Center on Friday, May 9.
Then Sheldon Retchin, M.D., M.S.P.H., VCU’s Senior VP for Health Sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System, added original music to the day. Chosen by the Class of 2014 to serve as their convocation speaker, Retchin reminded the graduates that “If you’re going to go into this doctor business, you’ve got to love people and their stories.”
Retchin drove the point home with his own story of Otis, a blues-playing tollbooth attendant who became Retchin’s friend and eventual patient. In Otis’ memory, Retchin himself pulled out a harmonica and played “The Mpasi-ble Blues” — so-named for one of the Class of 2014’s stand-out graduates, Priscilla Mpasi.
In her Farewell to the Class, President Priya Venugopal reminded her classmates that just 1,369 days ago, they had been strangers. But now, she told them, when they face the challenges the future will undoubtedly bring, “remember you have 200 colleagues cheering in your corner.”
In his closing remarks, Dean of Medicine Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., encouraged the graduates to consider that “Novel ideas that change medicine don’t always come from physicians. Great ideas can come from many disciplines, and from patients, and from critical observers of our profession. A battlefield nurse changed the way we care for the critically injured. A high school principal revolutionized medical education. A chemist who created a parlor game, ether frolics, spawned the field of anesthesiology.”
He went on to say that “The public’s trust is rooted in your commitment to your patients and your willingness to change or adapt to improve their health and relieve their suffering.”
In 2014, 192 graduates earned medical degrees. Graduation weekend also marked the conclusion of training for students with advanced degrees, including 50 earning doctoral degrees and 74 earning master’s.
Jan F. Chlebowski, Ph.D., the medical school’s associate dean for graduate education, noted that the size of the medical school’s graduate programs places it among the top 20 percent of medical schools nationwide. This year, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology passed the 200 mark in Ph.D.s awarded, the Department of Biostatistics passed the 100 mark and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology now has conferred 200 master’s degrees.