Class of 2021 Medical Graduates Celebrate with Hybrid Commencement May 23

May 21, 2021 by Jennifer Nachbur

The UVM Larner College of Medicine held its first-ever hybrid in-person/virtual commencement ceremony to celebrate Class of 2021 M.D. graduates on Sunday, May 23, 2021, with roughly 40 participating in person in Patrick Gymnasium and more than 50 participating remotely via Zoom.

(Larner College of Medicine diploma cover)

In a first-ever hybrid in-person/virtual commencement, the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine celebrated its Class of 2021 M.D. graduates on Sunday, May 23, 2021 during a ceremony that took place both at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium and via Zoom. (Link to the event video on YouTube.)

A total of 94 of the Larner College of Medicine’s 110 Class of 2021 medical graduates partook in the ceremony, with 42 participating in-person. All in-person participants complied with UVM’s strict COVID-19 safety protocols.

The May 23 event was opened by faculty marshal Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., professor of medicine, followed by a guitar performance of “America the Beautiful” by Class of 2021 graduate Michael Chmielewski, M.D. Following a welcome from Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., and UVM Health Network Medical Group President and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Claude Deschamps, M.D., UVM President Suresh Garimella delivered remarks and conferred degrees.

Family physician, epidemiologist, and anti-racism activist Camara Phyllis Jones, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., past president of the American Public Health Association, delivered the commencement keynote address. Jones counseled graduates that "being a social justice warrior is a legitimate and necessary part of being a physician." She gave them four charges to undertake as they embarked on their new careers: "Be courageous; be curious; be collective; and build community." Jones gave examples of the behavior aligned with these charges, such as having the courage to be a truth-teller, asking serial "why?" questions, caring about the whole of humanity, and bursting "through our bubble" to make conversation with strangers in order to turn strangers into friends.

In her address to students, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D.,told students "If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the power disease has to upend daily life in ways we never thought possible." She recognized the students' commitment to advocating for social justice and equity and said, "Your voice will continue to be important throughout your career, so speak up for what is right, be a model of professionalism,and demonstrate kindness and respect in all that you do."

Student speaker Elizabeth Lynch echoed Zehle's messages, saying "The healing our patients need goes beyond the clinical exam room or the emergency department, it demands that we engage with society's injustice and medicine's role in perpetuating an unequal world," and urged her classmates to act.

Dean Page and Zehle recognized and awarded degrees to Class of 2021 medical graduates participating remotely, via Zoom, followed by the in-person graduates.. 

Among the Class of 2021 members who received their M.D.s during the May 23 ceremony are:

  • Juan Conde, Ph.D., M.D., a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, who is grateful that U.S. medical schools like UVM’s Larner College of Medicine allowed admission to “Dreamers” like him. When he was 9 years old, Conde's mother brought him and his brother from Mexico to Texas, where he graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. Upon arrival in Vermont, he pushed lawmakers for a solution that would allow DACA recipients to stay in the U.S. Supported by Congressman Peter Welch, his influence reached the floor of the U.S. Congress when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi read his words during her hours-long filibuster in February 2018. Since losing his mother to cancer when he was in college, Conde aims to specialize in oncology and will be completing an internal medicine residency at University of Washington Affiliated Hospitals in Seattle. 
  • Kathryn Kurchena, M.D., and Sean Meagher, M.D., who got engaged on Match Day – March 19 – when they found out where they would be doing their residencies. A native of Rutland, Vt., Kurchena first worked in ecology/environmental science but yearned for greater human connection. A job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center sent her on the path to medical school and observing her mentor in the operating room during her obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) rotation clinched her specialty choice. She will be doing an OB/GYN residency at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island/Brown University where, coincidentally, her fiancé, Meagher, was born! Meagher grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and discovered his passion for medicine during a college internship working with a multidisciplinary team helping children and families adopt healthier eating, fitness, and lifestyle habits. A pivotal moment came during his internal medicine clerkship, where he had the opportunity to develop the kind of personal connections with patients that lead to high-quality care. Meagher hopes to pursue a cardiology fellowship after completing an internal medicine residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass. 
  • Elizabeth Lanata, M.D., who grew up in Scituate, Mass., and combined her lifelong passion for science and desire to connect with and help people in pursuit of a career in medicine. Having developed a fondness for the ER atmosphere as an emergency department scribe pre-medical school, she realized it was where she was meant to be when she completed her emergency medicine rotation, where she found the entire team to be committed to delivering the highest quality care with compassion and respect for patients and their families. Lanata is excited to continue learning and working in a fast paced, team environment as an emergency medicine resident at Brown University-Rhode Island Hospital. 
  • Sienna Searles, M.D., of Charlotte, Vt., a UVM undergraduate alum who was inspired to go into medicine after experiencing healthcare through the lens of her aging grandparents’ illnesses. She considers medicine to be a career that uniquely combines humanism and empathy with science and physiology and is looking forward to an internal medicine residency at UVM Medical Center. Searles will be participating remotely so that her mother, who is also a physician, can hood her.
  • Georges Tahhan, M.D., who was born and raised in Miami, Fla., in a Syrian-Venezuelan family. He says his "insatiable call to serve" and a compelling University of Florida shadowing experience observing open-heart surgery solidified his decision to apply to medical school. Not surprisingly, his initial impressions were reinforced during his surgical clerkship, and now he is looking forward to taking full ownership and responsibility of his patients as a general surgery resident at the University of Miami-Holy Cross Hospital. 

(View the UVM Larner College of Medicine Class of 2021 Commencement program.)

Link to the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2021 residency match list to learn more about where UVM M.D. graduates will be doing their specialty training.

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