Doctoral, medical and physician assistant students hear messages of hope and compassion as they celebrate graduation.
June 12, 2022 - By Nina Bai
“I can think of no act more radically hopeful and loving than your choosing to enter medicine,” keynote speaker Laurene Powell Jobs told Stanford School of Medicine graduates at the June 11 diploma ceremony.
“Your training has been a crucible difficult to imagine. Many of us may not appreciate the depths of the demands of standing in the breach between illness and health, between life and death, between a community and an onrushing virus,” said Powell Jobs, founder and president of Emerson Collective, an organization that uses philanthropy, investing and advocacy to accelerate progress on a range of critical issues including education, immigration, climate and health equity.
“So, on behalf of all your patients, and their friends, and their families, thank you. We are so very grateful.”
Powell Jobs spoke at the school’s first in-person graduation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a sunny, 90-degree day, 266 graduates — including 23 returning graduates from the Class of 2020 and 16 from the Class of 2021 — gathered on stage in an outdoor tent next to the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.
The students were earning doctorate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical degrees, and master’s degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Clad in graduation gowns and regalia, they also wore masks, a reminder of the ongoing pandemic that has defined much of their time at Stanford. Although the audience included proud parents, family and friends, some students felt the absence of loved ones.
Xueying Cao, from Nanjing, China, said her parents could not attend because of pandemic travel restrictions. She had not seen them for three years. But she was cheered on by her boyfriend and college friends as she received her master’s in physician assistant studies.
Emilia Ling, an MD/MBA graduate, celebrated with her parents and brother in attendance. An ocean away, her extended family in Malaysia were up at 4:30 a.m. to watch her walk across the stage on the livestream. Ling wore pearl earrings from her aunt and her grandmother’s broach pinned to the inside of her graduation gown.
Alex Noonan, who earned his physician assistant degree, lost his father in December 2020 to chronic disease. But he was surrounded by five college friends who had flown in from all over the country — Wyoming; Washington, DC; Boston; Los Angeles; and Salt Lake City. They had stayed close with a years-long Sunday email chain and had supported each other through ups and downs. His partner, Peter Chou, was receiving a doctorate in biochemistry at the same ceremony.
“It’s been a difficult time, losing a parent, but they got me through it,” Noonan said. “My parents have both passed, but I know they’d be super proud of me today.”
In opening remarks, Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, acknowledged the challenges of the past few years, from the 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19, to undeniable examples of racial and economic inequalities, to a breakdown in the public’s trust of science.
“Crises either bring people together or drive them apart. I’m so grateful that because of who you are as individuals and who we are as a community, this crisis brought us together and strengthened our resolve,” Minor said. “Because of science and the sheer will of so many, here we are, in person together, looking forward to the future with significantly more determination than trepidation.”
He also encouraged the graduates to remember the feeling of “those first sparks of human connection as we emerged from the pandemic’s early dark days.” It’s human connection that will make what they go on to do in work and life meaningful, he said.
“In the lab, when you’re exhausted, when work seems endless, or tedious, or uninspiring, think about that human factor. Think about the people who will benefit from our research and the lives we can touch,” he added.
Minor introduced each of the student speakers: Lily Johnson, a graduate in physician assistant studies, Corey Fernandez, neuroscience PhD graduate, and Daniel Brooks Bernstein, earning his MD. As Bernstein stepped up to speak, another man approached the podium. “I’m also Dr. Daniel Bernstein, associate dean for curriculum. And the two of us have had our emails mixed up for five straight years,” he said, to knowing laughter. “Like many good things, this will soon come to an end. But then, the friendship will continue to grow, as you see, when the world welcomes to medicine another Dr. Dan B.”
Minor then introduced keynote speaker Powell Jobs. A graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Powell Jobs founded College Track in 1997, a college completion program that addresses opportunity and achievement gaps among students. Her work at College Track, where she remains board chair, inspired her founding of the Emerson Collective.
Powell Jobs recalled how the compassionate care from Stanford Health Care physicians had touched her own life when her husband, Steve Jobs, was undergoing treatment. “I understand the difference that kindness makes in moments of extreme vulnerability. The team here at Stanford became like family to me because they treated me like family. They lifted and cared for me while I was caring for him and I will always, always be grateful for that.”
The ceremony closed with the graduates reciting the Stanford Bioscience Affirmation and the Stanford Medicine Affirmation.
Ling said she teared up as she recited the medicine affirmation along with her colleagues. “It feels very full circle, thinking back to what we did at the white coat ceremony,” she said. “It also feels surreal.”
Soon after, Ling was starting the wave with her classmates. The graduates filed off the stage to the joyous sound of “Celebration” toward beaming family and friends.
Check out the Scope blog for a photo essay of graduation.
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.