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Hats off to the 2019 Stanford Medicine graduates

Dean Lloyd Minor and Provost Persis Drell offer inspiring words to the graduates at the 2019 School of Medicine commencement ceremony.

Family, friends and loved ones from as far away as West Africa gathered on Saturday beneath a tent on the Li Ka Shing Alumni Lawn to see 180 graduates walk the stage to receive their MD, MS, and/or PhDs degrees. A full 239 had met their graduation requirements over the course of the 2018-19 academic year, and 17 had earned dual degrees such as MD/MS, MD/PhD, or MS/PhD.

In my story about the event, I wrote about the inspiring words from Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, who shared his own experience as an example of the "indirect journeys" that make up many successful careers. Minor had a successful research and clinical career at Johns Hopkins before shifting to a leadership role where he could impact biomedicine and health care more broadly.

He explained:

Remember, veering from the expected course is not a sign that you are lost. It means that you are a pathfinder. So, as you move forward in your careers, I encourage you to follow unmarked trails, explore unfamiliar territory and allow the pursuit of your passion to take you in new directions.

The ceremony began with a performance by Dane Johansen, a cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra and sibling of Sara Johansen, a member of the 2019 graduating class. Johansen played the first movement of Bach's Suite in D Major for unaccompanied cello.

Minor -- himself a cellist -- introduced the guest speaker, Provost Persis Drell, PhD, noting that among her many talents -- Drell is also a professor of materials science and engineering and of physics -- she, too, plays the cello.

Drell encouraged the graduating students to embrace a lifelong passion for learning, knowing that it will serve them in an environment where medical knowledge is projected to double every 73 days by 2020. She emphasized the importance of being able to adapt to uncertainty and change, and also stressed the graduates' role in advocating for and restoring trust in science.

"Trust must be earned every day, in every interaction, with every person we come in contact with," Drell said. "In the coming years, you will have many opportunities to engender public trust and focus attention on the many ways science has improved and will continue to improve our lives."

The graduating speakers -- Brandon Turner, who earned his MD with a concentration in informatics and data-driven medicine, and Alejandro Schuler, who earned a PhD biomedical informatics -- shared their views on how the graduates could make a positive impact on the new environments they will move into after Stanford.

Schuler encouraged them to embrace their revolutionary spirit and to pursue the beauty of scientific exploration for its own sake. Turner reflected on the question of the right response to others' suffering, and suggested that physicians in particular must re-engage with the world outside of health care:

What's ironic is that for a profession devoted to serving others, we spend so much of it isolated in communities of like-minded individuals where everyone speaks this same language. Secluded, it can be easy to forget why we do this at all, and to rediscover that, I believe we must leave these places, we must look outside.

After a blessing from Sughra Ahmed, associate dean for religious life, the students, their loved ones, and faculty members spilled out of the tent, cheering, hugging and celebrating.

Nancy Nkansah-Mahaney, who had earned her MD, reunited with her 17 guests, who had traveled from Ghana, Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Sacramento to celebrate with her. Her two children, Maya, 6, and Gavin, 5, had proudly walked the stage with their mom when she received her medical degree. Now, she'll begin a yearlong internship at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, California, after which she'll head to Johns Hopkins for her residency in dermatology.

To all the graduates: congratulations!

Top photos by Steve Fisch; bottom photo by Julie Greicius

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