ATSU-SOMA’s inaugural class of 92 D.O.s realize a dream, for themselves and those who made it all possible.
There are as many ways to tell the story of ATSU-SOMA’s inaugural commencement as there are people who made it happen. Those with the vision to create such a unique school. Those with the courage to attend it.
During the Innovators’ Gala the night before commencement, where students and their guests dressed in their best for a night of celebration and reflection before the next day’s ceremonies, many expressed what it all means to them. During a video presentation featuring congratulatory remarks from the 11 community campuses at which students spent three years of their education, the Ohio campus perhaps summed it up best:
“This is a story of a journey … This is a story of people who had a dream to become a doctor. This is a story of hard work. This is a story of study. This is a story of persistence. This is a story of relationships. Relationships between student and students, between students and teachers, between students and significant others … This is a story of serious and businesslike people. People who ironed their coats and shined their shoes. This is a story of people who tripped and fell down, but always got back up. This is a story of people who led the way for other students, other travelers, other people with a dream. This is a story of people who set a high standard for others to follow. As with all stories, there is a beginning and an end … One story ends, but the journey continues.”
These stories and more were shared by faculty and students alike at the gala, which featured student representative Vanessa DeSousa speaking on behalf of the graduating class. After taking students back to the excitement of the day they first were accepted at SOMA, through tests and surveys and experiences at CHCs that rattled nerves and put bodies and minds to their limits, she told students that although the experience hasn’t been easy, her hope is that they know they can take on the next leg of the journey – residency. “You CAN do this,” she said.
“We all knew that being a part of something new – being a part of the inaugural class of this school – would bring its own unique set of challenges – and boy, did it! Our perseverance and reflection on our experiences at our CHCs will make this program much stronger. Talking with some of the students in the classes behind us, many things have already changed for the better,” she said.
“You know, along the way, we’ve been called many names: guinea pigs, pioneers, founders, trailblazers, and my personal favorite, gladiators. And we certainly have been all of these things. But tomorrow, when we walk across that stage, they will call us doctors. So, cheers to us! To perseverance and hard work, to finishing at a now fully accredited medical school, and to bright, bright futures as physicians.”
The next day, June 3, more than 1,000 guests joined the 92 SOMA graduates for commencement at the Mesa Arts Center, where they heard remarks from ATSU Board of Trustees Vice
Chair Kenneth E. Jones, D.O., ’83; Frederic N. Schwartz, D.O., ’69, FACOFP, professor and associate dean for community campuses; SOMA Interim Dean Thomas McWilliams, D.O., ’76; and ATSU President Jack Magruder before keynote speaker and SOMA Founding Dean Douglas Wood, D.O., Ph.D., took the stage to personally address graduates.
“Today is a dream come true – for every one of you and certainly for me,” said Dr. Wood, who also serves as ATSU’s senior vice president – academic affairs.
Believe it or not, he told graduates as he addressed them on the floor rather than from the stage, 49 years ago he himself was a first-year medical student.
Of the advice he conferred to his protégés was the message to “always be the doctor.” Act as a professional, dress as a professional, don’t use foul language, respect your patients, continually develop your character, and have integrity, he said, defining the latter as the ability to meet the demands of reality. “We need to see things the way they are and not how we wish them to be,” he cautioned.
He then gave students an assignment – three things to do as they begin their careers: to continually develop medical knowledge and skills, to spend 300 seconds every day thinking about the issue of character, and to authentically connect with others and build trust.
“We can always improve on us,” he said, advising students to be truthful and develop the ability to work in such a way to reach goals and continue personal and professional growth. He also advised them to develop the ability to thank those who have helped them along their path.
Dr. Wood, clearly feeling the moment and full of pride not for himself but for the graduates, concluded by quoting his favorite doctor – Dr. Seuss – and read from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
“And will you succeed? Yes, you will, indeed! (Ninety-eight and threefourths percent guaranteed.) Yes, you’ll move mountains. … Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So … get on your way!”