School of Medicine’s 2024 graduates celebrate their accomplishments

Speakers at the ceremony that awarded PhD, MD and master’s degrees encourage students to adopt optimism, listen to their muse and dance to their own beat.

- By Emily Moskal

Newly minted physicians line up to receive their diplomas and be hooded.
Steve Fisch

To access the innovation necessary for great progress, you must embrace optimism, carve out quiet moments and follow your muse, speakers told graduates at the Stanford School of Medicine’s commencement ceremony on June 15.

“Wherever you go next, arrive as unshakeable optimists,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at Stanford University, during his opening remarks. “See the world not for what it is today but for what it can become. Create the best out of any situation and be the light that leads others. The history of biomedicine is written by those who step forward, optimistic.”

The ceremony, which took place in Maples Pavilion on the Stanford University campus, honored 322 graduates who earned medical, doctorate and master’s degrees.

“Wherever you go next, arrive as unshakeable optimists,” Lloyd Minor said.
Steve Fisch

Minor posited that believing in what most think to be impossible moves us forward in times of immense uncertainty. He quoted Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, Immanuel Kant and Chelsea Clinton — leaders who have argued that we have a moral duty to society to remain optimistic.

“The kind of optimism that I’m talking about is fundamentally a precursor to action,” Minor said. “It’s a belief that demands accountability from all of us.”

Trust in the muse

Keynote speaker Abraham Verghese, MD, professor of medicine, encouraged the graduates to slow down enough to hear their muse.

“Get unbusy long enough to honor yourself each day,” said Verghese, the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor. Verghese is the author of the bestselling The Covenant of Water and a champion of hands-on care combined with an approachable bedside manner.

“Our world conspires against us, seducing our attention to everything outside of us, not within,” Verghese said. “So many of us begin our day instinctively reaching for our phones, an act as damaging as reaching for a cigarette. I speak to you as a fellow sinner. A few seconds after waking, our consciousness is grabbed by texts, emails, by the voices of the external universe, and we are blind to our inner universe, deaf to our own voices.”

“Get unbusy long enough to honor yourself each day,” Abraham Verghese said.
Steve Fisch

We need quiet to become “a better clinician, a better scientist, a better physician assistant, a better human being,” Verghese said. That’s when true inspiration — whether for better patient care or a research discovery — visits.

The weight of the coat

Rachel Ryan, PA-C, recalled during her speech that she was told, three years earlier during her white coat ceremony, that the garment, a symbol of the profession, would grow heavier over time, “with increasing weight of responsibility to our patients.”

“Like the B side of a record, people rarely talk about the B side of practicing medicine and the toll it takes: the sacrifices, the emotional turmoil, the questioning…each their own layer of heaviness, weighing the shoulders down and contributing to fatigue,” said the newly minted physician assistant.

Shalmali Bane, PhD, who researched low-risk cesarean births for her degree in epidemiology and population health, drew parallels between pregnancy and pursuing a PhD: Each involves periods of exponential growth that lead to transformative experiences that typically involve a lot of crying but are rarely traversed alone.

As the graduates crossed the stage to receive their hoods and diplomas, one did a shuffle dance — a fitting display after the speakers’ exhortations that the newly minted graduates should groove to their own internal beat.

Gabriela Ruiz Colón is headed to a residency in neurosurgery.
Steve Fisch

Afterward, the group affirmed, together and aloud, that they were committed to the ethics of science and medicine as they read the Stanford Bioscience Affirmation and the Stanford Medicine Affirmation. They also vowed to weather failures with grace: “I will treat myself and my colleagues with kindness and compassion as we deal with temporary setbacks on the path to progress.”

Gabriela Ruiz Colón, MD, said she felt the immense privilege of being able to answer her calling — and the immense responsibility.

“As I was hooded, I felt the responsibility that comes with being a physician physically bestowed upon me,” said Ruiz Colón, who is headed for a residency in neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the ceremony. “While there are many years ahead of training, I know that Stanford Medicine has prepared me to take on all that is ahead.”

More from graduation:

About Stanford Medicine

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