WesternU honors resilience of the Class of 2021

Western University of Health Sciences celebrated the accomplishments of about 1,100 graduates in 11 virtual Commencement ceremonies held May 17-21, 2021.

These graduates, from nine colleges on two WesternU campuses in Pomona, Calif. and Lebanon, Ore., moved to online learning in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been adjusting and adapting ever since, and they finally reached this milestone.

“Today marks the official culmination of the specific course of study for all graduating students, but it does not signify an end to your education. You are also lifelong learners,” said WesternU President Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD. “Therefore, while Commencement marks an ending, it equally marks the start of something new. So let us all celebrate the mystery, excitement and challenge of journeys newly begun.”

The keynote speaker for all 11 ceremonies was Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science President and CEO David M. Carlisle, MD, PhD. He opened by congratulating the graduates and all who supported them, including their family and friends, and faculty and staff. He told graduates that they were about to become the health care professionals that the world needs right now.

Significantly, you will be entering the health professions at the time of the greatest challenge I have seen during my career as a physician. Indeed, the greatest challenge our society has faced in 100 years – the COVID-19 pandemic,” Carlisle said. “This pandemic has already claimed over 600,000 American lives, many of them our heroic health professional colleagues, and caused several million deaths around the world. The good news is that we are now bending the arc of this pandemic, primarily through the combination of modern biomedical science, good public health practice and health care heroes like those graduating today.”

All graduates have in common the desire to serve, to make lives better, to heal the infirm and to relieve suffering.

“This is why, at the end of a patient’s or client’s visit, the greatest reward we can all receive is not monetary, it’s not prestige. It’s simply having the patient or client turn to you and say, ‘Thank you,’” Carlisle said. “This is what being a health care professional is all about. This inspires me to close with one of my favorite quotes, attributed to the great Hippocrates. ‘Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.’”

Being able to adapt quickly to a rapidly-changing field in medicine and the medical sciences is what’s expected as you venture into your challenging work as professionals, and you did just that with what was thrown at you in the last year, said COMP alumna and WesternU Alumni Leadership Board President Vania Manipod, DO ’08, who welcomed graduates into the WesternU Alumni Association.

“From virtual learning to real life rotations in the trenches, you had to adapt and make the most of situations beyond your control. You had to navigate an unconventional last 15 months of education. You experienced hardship, grief, loss, isolation, adaptation, determination and humility to get to where you are standing here today as graduates of WesternU. Your class is special, and I truly mean it,” Manipod said. “You are change makers who helped our communities in addition to wanting to actively address topics such as mental health, burnout, health care reform, and injustices in medicine. In addition to going through your curriculum, you did it during a pandemic while also advocating for change.”

The online ceremonies were broadcast to friends, family and the public. Graduates individually appeared onscreen as family members, friends, or the graduate themselves placed their academic hood on their shoulders. Graduates also had the chance to take photos in an online photo booth, and have private time with their classmates, faculty and staff in a community sharing room.

“I would like to thank my family, boyfriend, friends and mentors for being a part of my journey to becoming a pharmacist. You all have been the greatest support system and I would not have been able to get where I am today without your unconditional love and support,” said College of Pharmacy graduate Keana Mendoza, PharmD ’21, who will start a residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “I fully intend to use my PharmD degree to help and care for others just as WesternU has taught me. Congratulations to the College of Pharmacy Class of 2021. We did it!”

College of Health Sciences Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate Michelle Bagheri, DPT ’21, will start Glendale Adventist’s Orthopedic Residency program in July.

“Graduation from WesternU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program represents the culmination of a journey and the attainment of a goal I thought I’d never be able attain. It is an exciting time and an array of feelings are surfacing as my time as a student comes to a close,” she said. “The DPT program is comprised of a faculty that is dedicated to excellence where they are able to encourage students to remain curious about learning and work exceptionally hard to acquire the skills necessary to be the best clinicians we can be. The faculty have structured an exceptional program that has allowed my didactic work to provide the foundation required to practice and become successful in the clinical setting.”

COMP-Northwest helped nurture students’ passion for advocacy by supporting student-led grassroots initiatives, said COMP-Northwest graduate Omar Rachdi, DO ’21, and he is grateful to COMP and COMP-Northwest Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Mirabelle Fernandes Paul, EdD, for being a huge advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and Justice.

“From supporting the creation and cultivation of the DREAM Program, being the advisor for both White Coats 4 Black Lives Chapters, to advocating for the creation of BIPOC scholarships, with special thanks to The Heatherington Foundation and Dean Crone for supporting these life-changing initiatives,” Rachdi said. “I look forward to being able to visit the campus when I come back from residency to see the new Diversity center!”

College of Veterinary Medicine graduate Faye Varias, DVM ’21, said she struggled in her first year, but found some great mentors and an awesome support system, which helped her discover that she wanted to become a boarded shelter veterinarian.

“The format of our curriculum allowed me to tailor my rotations around externships with several animal shelters. This helped me network with several veterinary professionals in this sector and learn about unique ways shelter medicine helps its community,” Varias said. “After graduation, I’ll be moving to Las Vegas with the goal of expanding my skill set in shelter medicine and surgery.”

She has made some great friend during her four years at WesternU, classmates who bonded over the shared challenges and successes together.

“I’m proud of how resilient my fellow graduates have been through this interesting time in the world,” Varias said. “Amidst all that, we still achieved our goals and I am very fortunate to be among them.”


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