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Stanford medical school alum fulfills lifelong dream to participate in commencement ceremony

As a line of black-gowned students marched past the palm trees outside the Center for Clinical Sciences Research at Stanford last Saturday, one stood out from the rest: Sixty-three-year-old Jose Sandoval, MD. The white-haired gentleman, who has been practicing family medicine in a small Texas town for the last 30 years, completed his medical degree in 1977.

Sandoval wasn't able to participate in the graduation ceremony with his classmates and had always wished he could come back to campus, don a gown and mortarboard, and walk in the commencement procession. My colleague Jonathan Rabinovitz details Sandoval's heart-warming return to Stanford to fulfill his lifelong dream in his news story:

Only toward the end of the ceremony, after all the diplomas had been awarded, did Dean Philip Pizzo, MD, explain that Sandoval had earned a medical degree from Stanford 35 years ago but had not participated in his commencement back then. "We wanted to give him the opportunity to graduate with the Class of 2012," Pizzo said, and the audience of 1,500 rose to give him an ovation, though few knew his story.

Sandoval, who grew up traveling the country in a family of migrant farm workers, had longed for this moment. The 11th of 14 children, he and only one other sibling were able to make it to college, but when he completed his education, his parents were not able to come west to mark his accomplishment. And so now, decades later, to celebrate this achievement, he had finally come back to Stanford, accompanied by his wife and four grown children. "It's been on my mind for many years," he said. "I thank God for the opportunities I have had."


Only when Sandoval's own children, now ranging in age between 26 and 32, began to graduate college did he say how much he missed participating in his medical school graduation. Last fall, his daughter Marissa secretly hatched the plan to see if he could walk with this year's class. She called the dean's office, and received an answer the same day: He was welcome back.

"It's a very special day," he said.

During the commencement, Margaret Hamburg, MD, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, delivered the keynote address and urged students to be open to new ways to enhance health care. As noted further down in the release:

[Hamburg] told the Class of 2012 that the day's events may lead them to move beyond careers as practicing physicians and research scientists to serve as government leaders and policy-makers. Indeed, that was her own unexpected experience, which saw her dreams evolve from pursuing a life in academic medicine, like her parents who had been on Stanford's medical school faculty, to become in 1991 the commissioner of New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "Instead of having one patient at a time, I [had] 8 million," she said, recalling how her father explained that she was still a "real" doctor. "And now as FDA commissioner" -- the job she assumed in 2009 -- "I guess I have over 300 million.

"I'm telling you this," she added, "because when I was sitting where you are today, I had no idea that I would end up one day in any of these jobs."

All of us at Scope wish Sandoval and the graduating class the very best.

Previously: Champion of stem cell research to headline graduation and In commencement address, Atul Gawande calls for innovation around "entire packages of care"
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

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