It was John M. Dunn who, in 2007 as the new president of Western Michigan University, presented his vision for the creation of a new medical school in Kalamazoo and challenged the community to help him make it happen.
So, it was fitting that Dr. Dunn, now president emeritus of WMU and a professor emeritus at WMed, would serve as the keynote speaker at the MD Class of 2021 virtual commencement as the medical school celebrated the graduation of its fourth class of new doctors and marked the institution’s 10th anniversary.
“You’re now alumni and ambassadors for this world-class medical school,” Dr. Dunn said during the event, which was held on Saturday, May 15, 2021, and shown on the medical school’s Facebook page. “Your future accomplishments and successes will reflect on you and your family but also on WMed, its founders, its faculty, and staff and what you have learned so far is significant but I hope you realize that your edification is still in its infancy. John Wooden, one of the greatest basketball coaches of our time once observed, and I quote, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,’ end quote.
“We are confident that you will choose your next steps wisely and well,” Dr. Dunn added. “Share the knowledge you have gained here to enrich the health and lives of those you serve. Remain an eager learner for the rest of your life, read, listen carefully to the wisdom of others, reach beyond what you know for new possibilities in treatment or discovery. Enjoy and embrace what lies ahead.”
Students from the MD Class of 2021, as well as graduates of the medical school’s Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences and Master of Science in Medical Engineering degree programs, gathered with their families and friends at locations across the country on May 15 to watch the virtual ceremony and mark the special day.
The event was the second WMed commencement that was held virtually out of an abundance of caution during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Dr. Dunn and others who addressed the MD and master’s program graduates looked forward with optimism at what lay ahead for each student.
“The challenges of today, specifically the COVID pandemic and the impact of racism in our society, reinforce the need for you as future physicians and scientists to bring our CLEAR mission to life,” said Paula M. Termuhlen, MD, who began her tenure as the medical school’s new dean on May 1 . “The world needs exceptional clinicians to treat and heal the sick. The world needs exceptional leaders to lead our healthcare teams, healthcare institutions and, most importantly, to lead us forward. The world needs exceptional educators who are committed to lifelong learning and inspiring future learners. The world needs exceptional advocates for patients, the underserved, the medical profession, and each other. The world needs exceptional researchers to discover cures that will ease suffering.”
Dr. Termuhlen told the graduates that the global pandemic and the racism that has paralyzed the health and well-being of so many has shined a light on the need “for competent and compassionate physicians, biomedical scientists, and medical engineers.”
“Among all of the many endeavors you could have selected as a career, congratulations on making a choice that will have such a profound impact on individuals and the communities where you will live,” she said.
During the virtual commencement ceremony, as each student’s name was read, a slide with their photo, the name of their honorary hooder and their plans for residency training, was shown. More importantly, students from the MD Class of 2021 got to hear “Dr.” before each of their names and see the MD credential at the end of their names on each slide.
During his remarks to his classmates in the Class of 2021, Jesse Chou injected a bit of humor and told them to “look back, look around, and look forward.”
“I can’t believe we finally made it,” Chou said. “Looking back, this has been a truly special place to spend four years.”
Chou said the last four years for the Class of 2021 were not without their challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, he implored his classmates to look around and enjoy the moment and the major accomplishment they achieved together by graduating and moving on to residency training.
“We’re on top of the world right now,” Chou said. “We’re one of the best classes that WMed has ever graduated by any metric – higher board scores, more publications, better looking, and more humility. We really are one of the best classes, at least top four.”
Those who tuned in to the virtual commencement also got a chance to hear from the medical school’s founding dean, Hal B. Jenson, MD, MBA, who recently retired and now serves as dean emeritus at WMed.
Dr. Jenson said he was thrilled to be a part of the festivities, to have the opportunity to celebrate what he called “a momentous day” for the Class of 2021 and graduates of the medical school’s master’s degree programs.
“Each graduating class contributes to building our legacy and a rich history of excellence,” Dr. Jenson said. “We look forward to your continued successes throughout your careers. Even though you are graduating today, you will always be a part of the medical school family and you are always welcome home.
“2021 marks the 10-year anniversary of the medical school,” he added. “We’ve achieved tremendous success during our first decade because of the active engagement of our students, faculty, and the broader medical school community.”
As he introduced Dr. Dunn as the keynote speaker for this year’s virtual commencement, Dr. Jenson told those watching that WMed will forever be part of Dr. Dunn’s legacy “to our learners, our faculty, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, and Southwest Michigan.”
For his part, Dr. Dunn encouraged this year’s graduates to move forward with lives filled with gratitude and he gave them tidbits of advice – give to others, practice patience, be humble, be kind, and stay healthy.
“Science and medicine have led the light and COVID-19 is a formidable opponent that has demanded and still demands our upmost vigilance,” Dr. Dunn said. “The future is murky but it reveals clearly that we need more of you – dedicated physicians with the latest stuff and scientists capable of innovative research.”