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Dean Learman

Good morning and welcome to everyone joining us for this occasion both near and far. This is the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s seventh annual Commencement Ceremony – but our first virtual one. It was a difficult but necessary decision. 

The current pandemic serves as a vivid reminder of why each of our graduates has pursued this path – to serve our communities, especially in times of urgent need. A handful of our graduates that we recognize today completed their requirements early so they could be available to start their residency early if asked to do so. Others have volunteered to find protective equipment, help feed our local health care community or support the local Virginia Department of Health office. 

Each of you in your efforts over the last four years have exemplified Virginia Tech’s motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and I’m confident you will continue that embodiment throughout your careers. As the current pandemic shows, physician thought leadership is in high demand – and you are ready.

While not the original way we planned to honor the Class of 2020, we are grateful to have this opportunity to celebrate each graduate today. 

A medical student does not make it to this day alone.  There are many others supporting, encouraging, and guiding them in this journey. I imagine many of those supporters are watching the ceremony today – from spouses, to children, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, mentors, faculty, alumni, and many others, each contributing to this journey in unique ways.   

Many attending virtually today are faculty, other health care professionals and our patients, all of whom have contributed to the education of our students.  Through your efforts each student is now poised to start residency training and to become the physician you would choose for yourself or your family, the kind you would want to call “my doctor.”

And finally, what I expect is the largest group tuning in today, the guests of our graduates. Each of you has affected the life of one of these students in a way that has shaped their development into thoughtful, curious and humanistic physicians.  

Students, while today celebrates your accomplishments, I also encourage you to thank everyone who has helped you get to this important milestone in your career.  

Every graduating class from our school is special, but you, our seventh class, have been particularly high achievers.  You were chosen from more than 4600 applicants – which set a new application record; nearly triple the number from the inaugural class. Each of you came with strong academic and research credentials, and now you will go forth to achieve wonderful things in your careers.  In doing so you will serve as ambassadors who build the reputation that is consistent with our vision of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine as a research-intensive school.  

We applaud your recent success in the 2020 MATCH, when every one of you matched successfully in the first round to outstanding residency programs in prestigious medical centers across the United States. This achievement has set the bar very high for future classes.  Congratulations on a successful culmination of your four years of study.  

During your time at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, you have been key contributors in building and sustaining our culture, both within the walls of our building and within the community that defines our school of medicine. Class of 2020, you have indeed met and exceeded our expectations. We are very proud of you.  

Now it’s your turn to give our virtual audience a student perspective of the class. Two students have been selected by their classmates for this honor. Ms. Justine McGiboney will speak first, followed by Mr. Sol Moon.  

Student Speaker: Justine McGiboney

This isn’t how it was supposed to be. We should be together today, dressed up in full regalia, celebrating with each other and our families and reveling in all we’ve accomplished throughout the past four years. But life happens. In the words of 80s philosopher Axl Rose, “Welcome to the jungle, baby.”

This may not be the commencement we expected, but this is our moment. It is uniquely ours. This is what we’ve worked toward for the past four years. Though we may not be physically together, let our celebration not be diminished.

As a class, we’re not shy to adapting. Some of us move into new apartments and houses almost every year. We transitioned from a private medical school to a formalized college of Virginia Tech just as we were setting off for the hospital at the start of our third year. But perhaps most true to our class aesthetic is our ability to seek out the free food. We savored the excellent rice crispy treats at our white coat ceremony, celebrated the days during first and second year when Jellie ordered Honeybaked, and were always at the front of the line for lunch during the Research Symposium.

For our class, food brought us together from the beginning. We shared important dishes from our culture with each other at the International Potluck. We brought cakes and signed cards for each of our birthdays and exchanged gifts in the Commons before Christmas break. Over these past four years, we’ve truly become a family, both for better and for worse. We celebrate each other’s engagements, babies, and weddings, but we also take pictures of each other sleeping in class to broadcast in a slideshow for Match Day. The memes we have created and shared in PBL and GroupMe are exceptional. Although I can’t tell you in person today, I want you to know how honored and proud I am to be part of your class.

When we were learning how to be doctors together during third year, our bonds with each other intensified. We taught each other the foundations of medicine: how to scrub, how particular attendings like presentations structured, and which hospital floor nurses’ stations had the best ice cream selection. We created symbols of strength to keep each other awake during nights on our surgery rotations. On long call days, we took solace in the golden embrace of curly fries. Though we may be physically apart today, the spirit of celebration persists. Our bonds are stronger than six feet of separation and more permanent than the spotty connections during Zoom meetings.

And so, four years later, here we are today. Today is a day to celebrate us. To celebrate not only what we’ve accomplished, but to reminisce on all the memories we’ve cultivated throughout our time at VTC. I’d especially like to thank Nikki, who has preserved many such moments as our class historian. Our memories will persist long after social distancing becomes a meme and COVID-19 becomes particularly high-yield for examination purposes.

Today is also the day to look forward. We are going to start residency on the frontlines. We will train in the midst of a pandemic. The time is uncertain, the stakes are high, and this is uncharted territory. But VTC has prepared us well, and we are ready to answer the call. This is the opportunity to fulfill what we wrote about in our pre-med personal statements. This is our moment. And one day, when we are nearing retirement and precepting our own medical students, we will tell the legend of training amidst COVID-19 and how we walked to the call room, dog-tired, uphill in the snow both ways.

When I was reflecting on what wisdom I could offer about residency, what I could say to make the uncertain more knowable, especially now, my own words failed. I don’t have the perspective to tell you anything you don’t already know yourselves. Instead, I kept coming back to one of my favorite poems, Gaudeamus Igitur, which translates to “So Let Us Rejoice.” This poem was written by Dr. John Stone, a poet and cardiologist at Emory, where we just so happen to be sending some of our best and brightest next year. Despite what the future holds, we are prepared. And we are not alone.

“For there will be days of joy
For there will be elevators of elation
and you will walk triumphantly
in purest joy
along the halls of the hospital
and say Yes to all the dark corners
where no one is listening

For this is the day of joy
For this is the morning to rejoice
For this is the beginning
Therefore, let us rejoice
Gaudeamus igitur.”

Congratulations, class of 2020.

Student Speaker: Sol Moon

Hello my dear friends and colleagues. It is an honor to be chosen to speak on our virtual graduation day. While we may not be meeting in person, I would like to thank everyone who contributed toward preserving the integrity and celebration of our graduation ceremony. Thank you Dean Learman and Dr. Knight for your wonderful match day commemoration, and for all your efforts to support us in our transition to residency during this tumultuous time. And to Dean Johnson, we all wish we could have seen you one more time. 

Though I am excited to stand here before you, I feel the need to address the circumstances in which we are not meeting. While nothing was certain at the start of this year, no one could predict the mire that we stand in today. Because an administration refused to prepare for an oncoming disaster, we now bear the consequences of disorganized and delayed action. Which has played out as an unmanageable burden on an already overstretched hospital system. Our colleagues are using trash bags as gowns, reusing the same PPE, and dying in the fight against COVID-19. 

It is a dire time for us to join the ranks of our colleagues. But if this has made one thing clear, it is that we are made of more than we know. 

Four and a half years ago, several of our interviews with VTC were rescheduled last minute due a snowstorm. I remember driving through the Kroger parking lot, bewildered by the tower of snow pushed to one side. I could not have imagined back then that this sleepy little town would soon be my home for the next four years. Now I cannot imagine having spent this time anywhere else, or with anyone else. My friends, the class of 2020, you are something truly special. 

People always told me that getting into medical school was the hardest part. And that it was all downhill from there. I never could have imagined the challenges that we would face throughout this journey. But through each successive trial, we have emerged with a keener sense of ourselves, and trust in our own capabilities. Proving that we are strong, flexible, and adaptable. 

We entered medical school with little more than the dream of one day becoming a doctor. We grew from the naïve and hopeful into discerning and experienced. From the nervousness of BLOCK I exams, to the stress of sitting for our STEP 1 exam, we have finally come out on the other side of the match process. We now leave with our MDs printed with Ut Prosim [That I May Serve] paved by our dedication, intuition, and compassion, so that we too, may serve. 

I may be biased, but I believe that this year VTC is graduating a class of extraordinary physicians who embrace the ideals of empathy, courage, and intellectual curiosity. We have signed up for a thankless endeavor, in a system that is optimized not for the patient or provider, but for the shareholder. And it may be many years until we finally feel like we are making the difference we set out to make. But while this broken system does not care for you, or me, or its employees, it does not mean we do not have to care for each other. As students, physicians, or healthcare providers, we are all on the same team. Even though our system has maximized efficiency to minimize our patient time, I urge you to maintain your humanity, for your patients, for your colleagues, and most of all, for yourself.

And so, I would like to say one final word for the class of 2020. Thank you all for the memories. Even if this crisis has forced us to rethink our 4th year "schedukes," and even if this is not how we envisioned our end together, kept apart, we have found lasting friendships, love, and a community that we will never forget. Thank you once again my friends. I would consider myself a lucky man, if we were ever to cross paths again. Until then I wish you the best.

Faculty Speaker: Jon Sweet, MD

I am VERY excited to congratulate you on your graduation. It’s an high honor to address you during these uncertain, uncharted, unprecedented times. 

I VAGUELY recall my medical school graduation 27 years ago. I trust we had a few speakers, and someone apparently hooded me, but it's all a complete blur. What I DO remember is that 2 weeks earlier, I married the most amazing woman I have ever known, who I met in the first few days of medical school, when we found ourselves in an anatomy group with 2 other students…and Nick…the name we gave our cadaver.

Things are MUCH different now in May of 2020. You are experiencing the UNCERTAINTLY and LOSS that come with a VIRTUAL Match Day and Graduation, and an END to your undergraduate medical education that no one would have imagined. MY family is also missing out on a number of milestones, including a daughter’s graduation from the Naval Academy, a daughter’s graduation from the VCU School of Physical Therapy, a son-in-law’s graduation from Wake Forest School of Medicine... AND my eldest child’s wedding — all in the Month of May!

I believe that YOU, and WE, will all get through this together, and we will emerge stronger and better -- as families, as physicians, and as a profession. I believe that staying positive in a negative environment is a CHOICE and a SIGN OF LEADERSHIP. And even if I'm wrong, it makes life much easier and more fun! During the long days and nights of residency, I came across a quote from Winston Churchill that has stuck with me ever since. In a letter to a lifelong friend he wrote: “we are all WORMS...but I do believe I’m a glow worm!” I don’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I like to think that HIS LIFE, and the lives of those around him, were made better by his trying to shine just a little brighter. I SAW this attitude reflected in the compassion and commitment that so many of YOU demonstrated on your third-year internal medicine clerkship and during your acting internships!

You are all so smart and accomplished! More than 30 years have passed since I applied to medical school, but I ASSURE YOU that I would have never won an interview at a school like VTC. So I am ill-equipped to talk with you about scholarship or leadership. But I do feel a bit more comfortable talking about the importance of LISTENING, SURROUNDING yourself by excellent people, and being NICE -- as you start down the NEXT PATH of your medical journey.

First: Listen 

I am humbled when I reflect on your many accomplishments. I love skimming the daily Virginia Tech News emails and finding the frequent stories about your research projects or excellence in community outreach. 

And more than ever, I believe that LEARNING comes from LISTENING much more than TALKING. My hope for each of you is that you do YOUR part to make healthcare better. Be unforgettable. Be proactive. Be an excellent LISTENER and communicator with your patients, their families, the nurses, and your healthcare colleagues. The HAPPIEST, most content people I know are often ALSO the best at ACTIVE LISTENING – and this leads to connection, trust, and just about everything good.  We can’t add value to others if we don’t first take the time to understand what is important to them, and THEN take the time to find that sweet spot where our knowledge, skills and compassion intersect with their needs. Listeners make it better.

Number 2: Make and INVEST IN excellent friends

Investing in our friends and colleagues is like investing in our finances. If we do this regularly and thoughtfully, the dividends will be extraordinary over time. Our friends will greatly influence the DIRECTION and QUALITY of our lives and careers. Surround yourself by people who you regard as BETTER that yourself. Personally, I have been wonderfully blessed and sharpened by MANY strong men and women at Carilion, VTC, and in my neighborhood. 

Writer Anne Lamott said "A good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is TRUE ALSO of our friendships.” It has been said that you are the average of your 5 closest friends. Or in the words of Proverbs: "Whoever walks with the WISE becomes WISE, but the companion of FOOLS suffers harm.”

You ARE the company you keep. If you collect and grow the right friendships, everything else will take care of itself. ###

Before I mention my third and final point, a few of comments about COVID-19:

There is NOTHING good about this pandemic. It has COMPLETELY disrupted our healthcare, our education, our economy, and social systems. And YOU, whose final BLOCKS of formal education were suddenly discombobulated AND who are stepping directly into harm’s way, have been affected by COVID-19 even more that the average American.

And…we can MAKE THINGS BETTER going forward:

  • Some states have expedited the gauntlet of medical credentialing AND expanded licensure across state lines. Turns out: the treatment for PNA is the same in NY as it is the CA! 
  • There has been a near-instantaneous and universal increase in TELEMEDICNE. Turns out: when the concern of catching a potentially deadly virus strikes, rolling out telemedicine is suddenly not so hard.
  • We are more thoughtful about trying to avoid UNNECESSARY and LOW-VALUE inpatient and outpatient care.
  • And some have been forced to rethink the traditional American "first-come, first-served, no-holds-barred, everything-that-is-available-should-be-done" approach to medicine.

My HOPE is that our healthcare system will continue to improve rapidly and that medicine 12 months from NOW will look quite different than 12 months AGO. YOU will be on the front lines of making American healthcare better. ###

So Finally, #3. Be kind

I don’t recall where this came from, but my wife and I came up with our family motto when the kids were very young — BYKOTA — be ye kind, one to another. For a number of years, we would have weekly family meetings with the kids we called BYKOTA Club. And this has been our family code...and Wi-Fi network… for the past 20 years!

In other words, Just be CURIOUS and KIND... ALL the time...and everything will be OK!

As I mentioned before, you are all so smart and talented. You will be surrounded by similarly bright people during your residencies. You will DISTINGUISH yourself by being KIND, by making OTHERS feel bigger, and by making OTHERS BETTER. 

There will always be someone smarter than you. There will always be someone stronger or faster than you. Your job is to be as KIND as possible.  Your patients, your families, and your healthcare co-workers will sense this. They won’t know your board scores, the number of publications you have, or how awesome you are at a lap chole. But they will know your kindness. Some members of the Class of 2020 successfully petitioned the school and fulfilled their graduation requirements early, so they could jump right into the fray and assist their NEW communities in battling COVID-19: kindness, courage, and leadership. They are living out Ronald Reagan’s comment that we cannot help EVERYONE, but EVERYONE can help SOMEONE.

The people around you are most important thing: So Prove it!

I think the Dalai Lama might have said it best: "Be KIND whenever possible...It is ALWAYS possible.”

So congratulations Class of 2020, and to your PARENTS and other LOVED ONES as well, who have supported you over the years. You have demonstrated grit, grace, and most recently...flexibility. On BEHALF of your faculty, it was an honor and delight to work alongside you. Thank you.

Aubrey Knight

Thank you Dr. Sweet. It has become our practice for the past several years to invite one of our graduates back to share some wisdom with our newest graduates. This year, we are privileged to have Dr. Michael Gallagher as our alumni speaker. Dr. Gallagher is a 2017 graduate who has been an internal medicine resident at the University of Virginia. This year, he has been elected president of the GME council for the housestaff at UVA. I feel certain that COVID-19 made that job a bigger challenge than he might have anticipated but can think of no one better suited to handle that challenge. He was a recipient of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teach Award as voted by UVA medical students. Dr. Gallagher is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. While at VTCSOM, he was inducted into the AOA Medical Honor Society, the Gold Humanism Honor Society, and Omicron Delta Kappa. 

Dr. Gallagher has accepted a position as Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine where he will be a hospitalist at Grady Memorial Hospital. 

Join me in welcoming Dr. Michael Gallagher. 

Alumni Speaker: Michael Gallagher, MD, '17

Good morning Class of 2020. It is my absolute privilege to be able to speak with you today. I have so much I want to share with you. Unfortunately my PBL slides couldn't be uploaded to the backdrop, so for the next 37 minutes, it's just my booming voice.

So much happens over 3 years. It would take hours to get through it all. So instead, I'm going to share with you the 8 simple tenets that make for a great experience in residency and hopefully beyond.

1. You've got this.

Residency is hard. And it should be. The famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas once said, "Without struggle there is no progress." That applies to every aspect of life. And it's the same with Medicine. You want to be challenged; you want to see it all, to get that experience, to feel there's nothing you can't handle.

And yet you will arrive in residency, and you will doubt yourself. I know this because you're human. I'm sure you've heard about imposter syndrome: it's real and it can be crippling for some residents. But a little bit of self-doubt is a great thing. It affirms that you care and want to continue to  work hard and grow. There will be things you don't know. That's what residency is for and why you are a lifelong learner.

But rest assured you've had excellent preparation. Two years of Problem Based Learning has equipped you to be the best teachers in your residency program. Our focus on early introduction of clinical skills has refined your physical exam. And the emphasis on patient centered learning with Friday morning wrap ups will ensure that you keep the patient and their family at the center of your care. You will succeed because of this great foundation that has been laid here at Virginia Tech Carilion, and more importantly because of your drive to continue to grow. Keep a curious spirit, read at least 20 minutes a day, and whatever happens, you can handle it. Take a deep breath. You've got this.

2. Be human.

Don't be afraid to fail. You will make a mistake and that's okay: your mistakes are what you will learn from the most, what drives you to get better every time, what makes you want to study more, to read late at night, to spend the extra time. Stop and reflect on your experiences to learn what you could do differently and to reinforce what you did well. Allow yourself to be okay with being imperfect, but continually  strive to grow. Because the victory is in the striving.

Ask for help when you need it. And be humble.

3. Find a mentor.

The PJ Whalen's, Aubrey Knights, Rick Vari's of the world. Tarin Schmidt-Daltons, Julia Hemphills, Paul Dallas, Jon Sweets, and Chad DeMotts. These are titans. They're not titans to me because of where they trained or how they teach, they're titans to me because of how they treat other people.

These are the people that make you want to work a little bit harder, that remind you that there is so much good in this world, that are shining examples of how to care for and about another human being, that show you how to be selfless. Seek similar people out and they will guide you not only in your career but help you in life to become a better version of yourself. That is the key.

4. Treat everyone as you want to be treated.

Plain and simple. Doesn't matter who, doesn't matter when. It's nice to be nice. And word gets around.

5. Be a team player. Every time.

You're only as good as your team, whether it's at a code or advocating for a patient. Work w the nurses, the RTs, the pharmacists, and of course the patient. It should be shared decision making. And if you disagree? That's okay. But do so respectfully and explain your thinking.

6. Give of yourself.

Give of yourself to your studies, and your colleagues, medical students and your patients. Take care of your medical students. You know what it's been like. It's hard. Take them under your wing and guide them, help them to get better. Be their role model. That's your job.

Embrace that.

As for the patient? Your patient doesn't care about which school you went to or whether or not you had honors. They care about how you made them feel. They need to feel that they trust you, that you care for them as people. It means you'll work hard for them. They need that hand. Remember, it's a lot harder on the other side of the bed. When a loved one gets sick, it's challenging. Words and feelings carry so much meaning. Take a moment and remember this.

A busy schedule is never an excuse not to have a meaningful conversation.

You spend so little time with the patient in our world of EMR and hectic schedules. Make time for the patient. You want to stay humanistic? You want to feel less burnt out? Spend time with the patient and their families. Learn about them as a person first. Not always able to do this w emergencies and the like. But when you're able, sit down. Eye to eye. And listen. It is often said that there's no coincidence that the words listen and silent have the same exact letters. You'll be amazed what you learn from them, and it truly enables you to tap in, whether it's motivational interviewing w smoking cessation or just being that emotional support as your patient struggles with cancer or the loss of their loved one.

You're going to go through some journeys with some people. You're going to lose some people. And it's hard. Take the time and explore the emotional component. It pays in the long run for your relationship w the patient. And you're going to feel better too.

7. Speak Up.

You have a powerful voice. Use it.

Speak up when you see a potential mistake or if you see mistreatment of a colleague.

Speak up and advocate for your patients when they can't get the medical supplies they need or they live in section 8 housing infested with mold. Write letters.

And when you see misinformation, especially in the current climate, speak up and correct misunderstandings kindly to spread knowledge and protect the public's health at large. Deal in facts and share you expertise.

8. Take care of yourself.

You cannot do this alone. Nor should you.

Residency is hard. You will feel burnt out, you will feel emotionally exhausted. And that's okay. Recognize this. You will have an encounter with a patient where you didn't establish rapport. You will feel stressed. And yet you have to find a way.

Rely on what matters most to you.

And I don't know what it is for each of you. But I encourage you to make a list before you start.

Mine is pretty simple. Family, friends, mentors, religion, exercise, going on a great hike, eating a burger, music. Whatever it is for you. These people and passions are what we rely on to handle challenging situations. They sustain us in times of trouble. Reach out to others if you need help or just to talk. Reach out to others as well because you never know who else needs help. It will surprise you. No one can help you unless you ask. It's not weakness, in fact it's this vulnerability that gives much more strength and leaves you feeling refreshed and empowered to get back in the game. Take care of #1 so that you can take care ofthe many.

Today, you are officially doctors of medicine. Do not take this for granted. You have been so many gifts. You have put them to great use thus far. Now the next challenge lies ahead. And spoiler alert: you're gonna do great.

Recognize that:

  • you can do this
  • be human
  • find a mentor
  • be nice
  • be a team player
  • give of yourself to others
  • speak up
  • and take care of yourself and the ones you love.

Class of 2020, we are so incredibly proud of you, of all that you have accomplished and more importantly who you are as people. We are incredibly excited to see what comes your way and we wish you nothing but the best. Now, get to work, and go hokies!

Dean Learman

It is my great pleasure to introduce Dr. Timothy Sands, the 16th President of Virginia Tech. 

President Sands joined the university in June of 2014 and served on the medical school’s Board of Directors when it was an independent school. Dr. Sands was a strong supporter of the integration of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine into Virginia Tech and led the two-year process, which was completed July 1, 2018. His vision of expanding Virginia Tech to Roanoke continues to help grow and support the transformation of Roanoke from a Train City to the Brain City as a rapidly developing Academic Health Center.

Dr. Sands is also expanding the university’s presence in Northern Virginia, with the announcement a year ago to create a one-million-square-foot Innovation campus there to support the commonwealth’s economy and need for scientists and engineers. The campus was a critical factor in Amazon’s decision to locate a new east coast headquarters in Arlington.

Before coming to Virginia Tech, Dr. Sands served as executive vice present for academic affairs and provost of Purdue University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and master’s degree and doctorate in materials science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Please join me in welcoming President Sands.

Keynote Speaker: Timothy D. Sands, PhD

Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to be part of this important moment.  

Important for you, your families, and the thousands of patients who will look to you for care, comfort, and the medical breakthroughs that will impact the world’s emerging generations. 

I know this ceremony, and the entire semester has been different from what all of us expected.  Among the things you most are the opportunities to study together and solve problems face-to-face, celebrate Match Day (congratulations on a perfect Match Day by the way), and celebrate commencement. 

I know you understand why this is necessary, and I also want you to know that I understand what you’re feeling.  

  • The world has certainly changed since you put on your first white coat four years ago.
  • The health care landscape is very different – the way care is delivered is changing rapidly.  
  • There are unexpected new challenges for providers, patients, and researchers. 
  • Disparities in healthcare access and resources are becoming more visible, and the consequences more severe. 

That’s why today, virtual ceremony notwithstanding, is a great day for health care.  

Today’s challenging health care environment is exactly what the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine was established to address, with a vision and mission to develop physician thought leaders through inquiry, research, and discovery.   

You have a commitment to outstanding clinical performance, interprofessionalism, and life-long learning. 

You have been immersed in patient-focused, problem based learning over the past four years, and now the problems and the patients are out there waiting --- and you are ready for them. 

This is why you came to VTC.  You want to solve problems by working in diverse and inclusive teams.  You want to help people and communities with discoveries that make a difference.  You came here because you share our commitment to our living motto, “Ut Prosim”, That I May Serve. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, military training was a significant part of Virginia Tech’s service mission.

During World War I, 2,297 Virginia Tech alumni served in uniform.  During World War II, 7,285 alumni served.   In many cases, graduates went immediately into active service.  

Today the world is facing a different kind of battle, a battle with leaders who wear a different kind of uniform.  

For civilians, the white coat you where is a symbol of hope, a uniform worn by individuals who have the training and experience to help them – and have sworn an oath to do so. 

Virginia Tech remains committed to educating the best and brightest of each generation and preparing them to lead and confront the world’s greatest challenges.  Today – that’s you. 

Your dedication to service as a physician, and spirit of “Ut Prosim” as a graduate of Virginia Tech is exactly what is needed right now.  We’re proud to send you into the world where you and your white coat will be a symbol of hope to all of us.  

Thank you for your courage and service. On behalf of Virginia Tech, congratulations on achieving this milestone, and we wish you great success in the years to come.   

Go Health Care Hokies!

Aubrey Knight

Thank you very much, President Sands.

We have heard from representatives of the student body, the faculty, an alumnus, and finally our esteemed keynote speaker. Today is about celebrating the completion of a four year journey for our students.  So, on to what you all came here to witness. 

Dean Learman, I have the high honor and great privilege of presenting to you the candidates for the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

Dean Learman

Upon the recommendation of the faculty of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and by virtue of the authority vested in me, I hereby confer upon each of you the degree of Doctor of Medicine, with all rights, powers, and privileges pertaining thereunto. 

Aubrey Knight

We call these ceremonies commencement for a reason, for graduation marks the end of one thing and the beginning of another.  The 45 whose names will be called and pictures projected are now set to begin their journey as physicians.   In the graduation program, you will note the specialty as well as the residency program where our graduates will be training beginning less than 2 months from now. 

As we send them off, we want to introduce them to you.  As each name is called, a picture will be projected. We were unable to personally place the academic hoods on the graduates but they will be proudly wearing their hoods in the picture. The exterior of the hood is green velvet, the traditional color for medicine.  The interior of the hood is blue and maroon representing the colors of Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech, which taken together are the official colors of VTCSOM. 

Ladies and gentlemen and Dean Learman, I present to you members of the Class of 2020, recipients of the degree Doctor of Medicine from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. 

Dr. Malek Hocine Bouzaher
Dr. Anisha Reddy Chada
Dr. Judy Chen
Dr. Lisa Crisalli
Dr. Lindsey Jane Dove
Dr. Soleille Dorothy Everest
Dr. Brendon Michael Fusco
Dr. Susan Linda Giampalmo
Dr. Adam Ezra Goode
Dr. Jeffrey Archer Kessna Henry
Dr. Nicholas Farhat Homsy
Dr. Caleb Devon Hubbard
Dr. Darlon Jan
Dr. Awaiz Ali Khan
Dr. Margaret Elizabeth Kneifel
Dr. Christopher David Liao
Dr. Tom Xi Zuo Liu
Dr. Rosemary Theresa Meerscheidt Mallonee
Dr. Justine Elise McGiboney
Dr. Sanaz Monjazeb
Dr. Sol C. Moon
Dr. Robert James Nicholson, Jr.
Dr. Ashley Marie Nyitray
Dr. Stephen Thomas Owen
Dr. Hannah Maureen Palmerton
Dr. Dan Park
Dr. Jay Jaykrushna Patel
Dr. Harsh Harsukh Patolia
Dr. Steve Siyuan Qian
Dr. Mustafa Nawroz Rasheed
Dr. Cody Gray Roberts
Dr. Mercedes Robinson
Dr. Jean Michael Garcia Sabile
Dr. Simran Sandhu
Dr. Brian Fabian Saway
Dr. Don Benthall Scarboro
Dr. Farah Shah
Dr. Mira Tess Tanenbaum
Dr. Jordan Daniel Taylor
Dr. Albert Yi-Que Truong
Dr. Lena Manning Turkheimer
Dr. Benjamin S. Walker
Dr. Tyler Davis Willson
Dr. Abigail Rose Winn
Dr. Melika Zarei

Dean Learman

At each graduation, it has been a tradition for our graduates and all physicians present to recite the Hippocratic Oath together.  This year we have asked our faculty to read lines from the oath and bring their voices to you from their hearts, through their lips and transmitted through the speakers of your devices to your ears, so you can read each line with them. 

Hippocratic Oath

 “I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, and with the support and encouragement of others, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of my patients, all measures appropriate, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and undertreatment.

I will practice the art of medicine as well as science, remembering that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the use of scalpel or drug.  

I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed.

I will remember that I do not care for a patient alone.   Rather, I am part of an interprofessional team, all of whom offer their skills to assist with patient care and caring. 

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death, recognizing this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humility and awareness of my own frailty. 

I will remember that I do not treat data or disease, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related issues, if I am to care adequately for my patient.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of serving those who seek my help.”

Dean Learman

I am very proud to formally welcome the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Class of 2020 into our profession.  

Thank you again to all of our guests and graduates for attending our virtual ceremony today, and congratulations, Class of 2020!

To close, we asked our graduates to share their favorite memories of VTC and well-wishes for their class, since we are unable to do so in person. Here is what they had to say. 

Student Memories and Thank Yous

My time at VTC has been some of the honestly best years of my life. I've loved living in Roanoke. I think the community's done a really amazing job of embracing the medical school and I met my fiancee here at VTC so I can't complain.

It has been an amazing experience in terms of growing quite a bit you know. Coming from Indiana and both personally and academically you know gotten a lot of good research experience and met a lot of neat people and overall just overall become a better person from it.

Roanoke is a great place to complete medical school and it's a great place to live. The school is really supportive of everyone and I can't imagine having been happier or performing better anywhere else.

My time at VTC has been great. I honestly couldn't ask for a better medical school experience. My wife and I managed to raise three kids during the past four years and the support from my classmates and from everyone here at the school and everyone in Roanoke it's been amazing. so I really could not ask for anything more.

Coming to VTC has been the best decision that I've ever made. The support that I've received here from faculty and mentors like Dr. Knight and Jellie and Emily and all these people have really shown how much everyone is supported and invested in our success.

Yeah it's been a pleasure know all of you I'm sure we'll be in touch and I've made several lifelong friends and they look forward to keeping in touch with for a long time. I just wish everyone the best of luck in the next steps.

Joining our class late made me feel a little bit different than you guys wouldn't getting to this this kind of end of the year type of stuff but I just want to say thank you for welcoming me with open arms and I'm so proud of all the work that we've put in together and I'm so so happy that we made it here.

Well I'm sad that I couldn't be here with all of our classmates especially a tight-knit one like we have a class of 2020 at VTC. I know that we've created bonds that will last a lifetime and that this is just one stage where we're apart but continuing forward we're always going to be part of this amazing class.

When I first came to Virginia Tech Carilion I was a little bit apprehensive. I wasn't really familiar with Southwest Virginia but immediately coming here, meeting our classmates, meeting the faculty immediately brought in with open arms just getting to be part of this growing new institution has been incredible. I'm going to Charleston but I'm going to cherish my time that I've been able to spend in Roanoke and to be a Hokie.

I've enjoyed it greatly. I have to thank everyone who's supported me along the way. I'm a believer that well the individual matters it's as much the community that supports it and i can't think of a better community than VTC.

I had a great time at VTC. Roanoke is home for me and VTC just made it that much more so I love everyone in my class definitely feels like a family and I'll be really sad to leave the area and all the people that come with it.

VTC for me was you know really good time for the for the last four years and I think the best part about it was meeting the types of people that I met and knowing that we formed these you know a lifetime connections and something like that I think is very invaluable for me that I wasn't necessarily expecting but it's something that I immediately knew that I would get out of it within my first few months of being here and I just knew it was right place for me.

Some people may not know it but I've learned a lesson a few lessons from every single person I met here and this is something I will never forget. I really liked, as mentioned earlier, I really cherish my experiences and memories here and for that very reason it would be incredible to have the opportunity to ever come back to take care of patients in what I call my home.

When I think of our time together, what comes to mind the most is just memories of me laughing until my belly hurt and so I can't wait until the next time I get to see you and give you a big hug.

VTC is truly a family. I don't think I could have succeeded in medical school without the support of all my friends and faculty. I had an amazing time and I couldn't have asked for a better four years.

It was probably everything that I asked for. it was a place where I got to grow, learn, make friends, experience hardship, experience celebration, and was probably one of the greatest times of my life.

It's been a great experience. I've met a lot of people who eventually I consider my family. It was pretty hard moving from college to a completely new town and leaving my old friends behind but overall these people have become my new family.

It's been great, everyone here really is like a family. We are a really small class and so we get to know each other incredibly well and the faculty as well so really graduating is very bittersweet for us because it's really like a family celebration but it's gonna be really sad to leave and move on from here even though it's the best next step.

Growing up I really really wanted to learn how to be and wanted to be a physician scientist and I think here at VTC is just part of our value set. I think my time here and my education here has really helped me take those steps and being the physician scientist I've always wanted to be.

I love all of you guys it's been such a great four years and it would not have been the same without every one of you.

I had such a great experience at VTC. I kind of knew that this was the medical school I wanted to go to as soon as I came and saw the campus on my interview and was really blown away at how beautiful everything was and how nice and welcoming everyone was and they seemed very supportive and that really has been true during all four of my years here.Faculty have been great and my classmates have become friends forever.

I came to Roanoke four years ago and I really wasn't sure what to expect and on my interview day I remember leaving and saying to myself there's something special about that town and that school in that community and my time here has definitely shown that in spades I think. From the faculty members who are invested in us from day one to the close-knit community we have here in Roanoke to our peers and all of us being just very supportive of one another from day one and even beyond. You know particularly during this time it's been an amazing and magical experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Thinking back on when we started in July of 2016 - now it's it's incredible to see how much we've grown, how much we've experienced together and I just truly can't imagine being with anyone else during this time.

It's been amazing. It's been a wonderful five years as I ended up taking an extra year to get an MBA after completing my second year and I don't regret it at all and even though my time here was a little bit longer than most it's just been it's been fabulous and I want to thank two of my classmates because I didn't start off with them this class of 2020 but they welcomed me during our third year as if I had started with them from the beginning so I just want to thank them for that too.

It's been great, it's been a good four years of the really supportive environment great group of people in my class, fantastic faculty and mentors. I've really enjoyed myself.

My time at Virginia Tech Carilion has been absolutely amazing I've made some amazing friends, have had awesome mentors, awesome faculty members, definitely be sad to be leaving but I know I'll hopefully be coming back one day. I needed to visit maybe even work here.

It has been amazing. I'm so happy that I ended up coming here for medical school. I've met an amazing group of people and so many great mentors all along the way and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I really appreciate the spirit that my class had. Everyone was so great with each other all throughout four years. Really inclusive environment.

My time here at VTC has been quite incredible I think I've made friends who I've never expected to meet and amazing people left and right, physicians who have inspired me, and residents who have driven me to become a better version of myself.

I think, besides all the clinical knowledge that we've gained and all the just medical basic science stuff. Our class is really close together and I think it's taught us how to work together as teams from the time we were in PBL all the way up to and we're paired with other students and the o.r and on the wards so I think it's really the small class size here it was the perfect fit for me and it really helped foster me as a better team player and a better member of a team which is kind of the best part of healthcare.

I have loved getting to know all of you It's been so cool to meet people from California to upper northeast, parts of the United States and everywhere in between loved it it's been an awesome experience I wouldn't trade it for anything I mean.

It's been awesome. Totally loved all four years here. Don't have a single negative thing to say. Definitely learned a lot. I'm looking forward to the next steps as well but I wanted to just think back and thank everybody for everything that they offered me for my four years here at VTC.

Remember to take some time for yourself and your families as you go out into residency, whether that be in family medicine like myself, or into neurosurgery like Brian, especially for him, to take some time and just remember why he's doing everything and to everybody just remember your why.

Congrats to everyone I'm gonna miss you guys so much. We've all really had an opportunity to become close and become more like a family so I'm gonna miss you fam I wish you guys all the best and I'm sure you're gonna go out there and crush it.

To my friends and family outside of med school thank you for supporting me and loving me. I definitely couldn't have done these four years of that yeah it was a long four years but a short four years as well.

I just want to thank all the teachers and wonderful mentors and classmates that I've met they've taught me so much I feel really excited for this next big step

Of course, a huge thank you to my family I know I'm a long way from home out here but it's been an awesome four years and I've learned a lot and I can't wait to see everybody as soon as this quarantine is lifted.

I want to give a huge shout out to my parents thank you for everything you've done for the support you've given me over these last few years. I couldn't have been here and succeeded the way I did without your help.

Thank you to my parents, to my new family in law, recently got married so thank you to them I'm sure they will be very supportive into the future. and to my professors and faculty who I've worked with just thank you a lot of gratitude for everybody

I just want to thank my friends and my family and all the staff here that really supported me and helped me make it this far I couldn't have done it without any of you all and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I want to thank my parents my brother my mentors and all my friends especially my classmates here at this program.

I'd like to say give a big shout-out to my parents I love you guys so much and it's been really heartbreaking not being able to share all this with you guys but I know that you're with me every step of the way like you have been in the past you guys inspire me so much and you've always believed in me and lastly to my fiance Stephen thank you for all the preparation with OSCE's and holding my hand as I opened my step one results everything you've done for me I couldn't have done it without you so thank you so much.

Wanna start by thinking my beautiful wife Hannah I definitely couldn't of gotten through this without her and then just to my both of my parents as well as my family and extended family it's been great to have all their support and then like I said just the faculty here all the administration appreciate all their efforts to make this happen.

There's a lot of faculty at Virginia Tech I'd like to thank probably too many to count one of the best parts of the experience of the year has been the mentorship

I would like to thank my family my parents specifically they immigrated to this country they made incredible sacrifices to give me the opportunity to really pursue my dream of anything I wanted to and to pursue my dream of being a neurosurgeon I think I could not have been anywhere close to doing any of the things I've been able to accomplish this far if it wasn't for them.

I just want to thank everyone has supported me along the way my fiancee as well as my parents my siblings and just all of my friends who really supported me and helped me get to where I am right now and I'll rely on them you know for life basically

First and foremost I'd like to thank my mom thank you for raising two daughters on your own and making so many sacrifices to get me to where I am and where I'm going thank you to my family both near and far for showing me so much support and love throughout this journey especially my family in Virginia, LA, and Houston. I'd also really like to thank my friends you guys have been so understanding and so empathetic throughout this journey of mine. I've gotten so many late-night phone calls and texts of encouragement and FaceTime calls just to support me and help me gather strength for whatever my next step was and I'll always appreciate that.

I'd like to thank my mom and my dad my family my sisters everyone who supported me throughout my whole time in med school so it's been really important and you guys have been awesome 

I want to thank my mom and dad who have been with me since day zero as well as my sister who's also a medical student they've been supporting me every step of the way and I continue to appreciate and cherish their support first steps to come.

To all my family to my friends to my loved ones to all our vtc faculty administration teachers support staff on the research mentors thank you so much for making my dreams a reality and I can't wait to see what VTC can do for the generations beyond us.

Thanks to all my family and all my friends and Mark my husband for supporting me the last four years and making it such a good experience

I just want to thank everyone for supporting me throughout this journey everyone has had their own way of doing it throughout my throughout my schooling and I'm thankful I couldn't have done it without them. 

Just first one thank my parents and my fiance Nick and my brother Matty are and then on top of that I want to thank all all my friends and classmates at Virginia Tech Carilion as well as the faculty staff you know every single one of them just had such a lasting impact in my training here and I I truly can't thank them all enough for what they've done

I just want to thank all of our professors administrators because you know they really have prepared us to be great doctors

Very thankful for my parents who have helped me every step of the way my brothers my family my grandfather and all of my mentors and friends here at VTC

I want to thank my parents my mom my dad and my sister they have been my rocks even though they've been really far away this entire time I love you guys

Thank you to everyone here at VTC and thank you as well to my family and friends who've been a wonderful support system for me these last four years I couldn't have done it without you guys

I want to thank my parents for supporting me during my journey and I want to thank all my professors all my faculty here for teaching me how to become a good physician and supported me along the way so thank you so much everybody

I like to thank my parents my brothers my brothers Hannah Palmerton who's another medical student here who's helped me along the way and just the whole whole school you know professors clinicians classmates everyone has really helped everyone helps each other here

I'd like to thank my parents my family Ankida and her family as well as my sister and all my friends in Roanoke that are not part of the medical school that made this place very special and of course the faculty and staff that made this experience extremely enjoyable

Thanks to my parents there in Indiana but they've supported me above and beyond what I expected of them and I'm sure they're very proud of me thank you to my research mentor who got me a project and trained me well enough to do well and you know submit a publication and even go on a research presentation

I'll start by thanking my parents and brother and sister for being supportive of me throughout this whole journey it's been a long one I'd like to thank my girlfriend and her family as well who've sat through and kind of seen this go for the last four years and sort of wondering how long is this going to take what's going on but still nonetheless being supportive and also of course all of our faculty members here all of the community members here who from day one have come here and and told us hey we want you we we were part of the selection process we are excited to have you here and all of that has combined to have us be just such a high achieving class and I think that that's not something that you can do everywhere to have that level of buy-in from every every step of the process and it's been it's been an incredible experience I think

I would definitely love to thank all the physicians who took us under their wing and gave us the opportunity to interact in patient care and a special thank you to Dr. Knight who really guided me through the application process and supported me throughout and was always there throughout my M1 and M2 years all the way through graduation and communicating clearly with and being honest and really providing a sounding board for me. Thank you Dr. Knight for allowing me to grow and fostering my development as well I really appreciate it.

First and foremost I'd have to thank my fiancee Anna and then my parents hey mom dad love you guys thanks for all the support you guys believed in me even though even when I didn't then I'd like to just everyone else there's just too many people to list just know that I love you and I will be thanking each and every one of you individually.

We made it not in the form or fashion that we had expected but we made it and so to everybody congratulations for being here and I just wanted to say that it has been an honor for me personally to count myself amongst one of you brilliant and thoughtful and amazing incredible individuals every day wonder how I'm a part of such an amazing group and I'm very thankful to be a part of it.

There's been incredible hurdles. I think nothing bigger than a pandemic but we've been able to get through it because we've been incredible friends.

But one thing that I've noticed is how resilient our community has been in the Roanoke Valley as well as our school that is something that I will never forget and this pandemic happened but I will very much cherish the response of the community and the school to this crisis

I think that all of this happening just gives us more of a reason to get together sooner rather than later and I miss everybody and I can't wait to see where we go from here

This entire experience just reinforced the bonds that we have already built you know over the last few years it's really been time to really testify to the types of relationships that we formed and I think that's really special

I love you guys I'm so sorry that we couldn't have the big celebration that we all wanted to have but I still feel super connected to everybody and I plan on keeping in touch with all of you

I will always cherish the memories that I've built with you guys and I just can't wait to see where our journeys take us

I hadn't expected when I came to VTC that we would become such like a tight-knit almost family so thank you all for being there when I need you and supporting me through the last four years

You guys are gonna make the best physicians out there I have no doubt I really miss you all and thank you all for all the great memories of the past four years and all the fun we've had together

Well done you all deserve this we've dreamed about this from so long and I'm just so proud of each and every one of you and I can't wait to call you my peers as well friends and fellow physicians

Congratulations class of 2020.

Go Hokies!