The ceremony began traditionally, with “Vermont Passacaglia,” the Larner College of Medicine’s alumni-composed processional. But instead of graduates and faculty marching into Ira Allen Chapel, a slideshow of photos depicting the Class of 2020’s medical school journey played on the screens of viewers in remote locations across the country and globe.
“Today we send you out into a world that needs you,” said Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., as he welcomed new physicians in the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 17, through the most extensive live online commencement ceremony held at a medical school during the coronavirus pandemic. (Watch the livestream video.)
Joined by more than 100 medical graduates, Page, College of Medicine leaders, and guest speakers were connected via Zoom webinar videoconferencing while friends and family members watched a livestream of the ceremony on YouTube.
The event featured several highlights, including a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” by Class of 2020 graduate Nana Agyepong, M.D., who sang from her home in Connecticut. In addition to remarks from Page, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D., and Stephen Leffler, M.D., president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Medical Center and Class of 1990 College of Medicine alum, graduates and viewers heard a Commencement address by Joia Mukherjee, M.D., M.P.H, chief medical officer of Partners in Health, and associate professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. Mukherjee discussed the important role of context, team and love – through the lens of the pandemic – in providing important perspective to individuals in the healing profession.
“It is adversity that makes a doctor a healer,” she said to the graduates, urging them to recognize and address health disparities, understanding that “zip code will define, in large measure, who lives, dies.” And she told the new physicians that “At those final moments when a patient is faced with the end, that is when your presence and your love can heal.”
Class of 2020 student speaker Eli Goldberg (see profile, below) told his classmates that when he looked at them, he saw “doctors who can stay grounded in an unstable situation, and find their moral compass when answers are unclear” and “doctors who are committed to serving others, and who have the passion to change lives.”
A native of Shelburne, Vt., Goldberg will be doing a residency in family medicine at UVM Medical Center. He did health outreach for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and at Planned Parenthood before medical school. “I think it’s critical for doctors to be socially engaged—to be able to see the bigger social picture behind each individual patient, and to act as advocates where the system needs to change,” he says.
Other members of the Class of 2020 who participated in the May 17 Commencement ceremony include:
- Jasmine Robinson, who is from Westchester County, N.Y., and will be completing a residency in obstetrics/gynecology at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell Health Southside Hospital in Bayshore, N.Y. Having experienced homelessness as a child, she established the Here to Help Clinic for Burlington’s homeless population through a Schweitzer Fellowship several years ago. Through this project, she says “I gained the greatest fulfillment in seeing the community come together for a great cause,” which “inspires me to create more community programs addressing social determinants of health.”
- Cole Shapiro of Charlotte, Vt., who will be doing a pediatrics residency at Duke University School of Medicine. She says, “I discovered a strength in caregiving while helping a sick loved one, and this led me to study medicine, and eventually, to a clinical interest in serving vulnerable populations and identifying barriers to care.” Recently, Shapiro worked with a UVM pediatrician to develop a clinical curriculum for training in Burlington’s New American pediatric clinic.
Like many medical schools across the country, UVM was able to confer early medical degrees to 49 members of the Class of 2020 on April 20 to provide them with the opportunity to join the healthcare workforce early if their residency programs needed their service.
View the Larner College of Medicine Commencement page.