For Patricia Obiageliaku Ekwueme, ’20 MD, ’20 MPH, graduating from medical school was a bittersweet ending to what was already a tough goodbye.
“I’m so excited to conclude this chapter and take on a position where I can put these clinical skills I’ve learned to use,“ Ekwueme said. “But on the other hand, medical school has been some of the best years for me in terms of clinical knowledge and personal growth and I have made a lot of great friends here that I’m going to miss so much.”
Ekwueme, who will begin a residency in psychiatry this fall at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, also credits her numerous mentors at Feinberg for helping her grow personally and professionally during her medical school experience.
“It’s been amazing to have them all on my team and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” Ekwueme said.
This year, Feinberg’s 161st commencement ceremony was held virtually on May 18 to accommodate public health measures combating the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony was introduced by Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean, who welcomed graduating medical students, faculty, family and friends to the virtual ceremony.
“I cannot think of a better time to embrace passion and emotionally prepare yourselves for the difficult medical work that lies ahead,” Neilson said. “For some of you, it certainly means growing up much faster than you might have imagined and for others, it means reaffirming your commitment to improving the human condition. For all of you, it will require something we don’t talk about enough: The need for resilience during times of great uncertainty and the ability to unselfishly serve those with greater privations.”
Neilson then introduced Morton Shapiro, PhD, president of Northwestern University, who spoke about students’ academic and personal growth and the need for their talents now more than ever before.
“In your lives of service, you will blend the greatest scientific advances with the timeless art of human care. While your learning will of course continue over your lifetime, today is about recognizing the achievements that have brought you to this point in your careers,” Shapiro said.
Dean Neilson, then delivered the commencement address to this year’s graduates.
“You are embarking on a joyous journey of lifelong learning. This life, as you will quickly come to realize, is not a sprint but a relay race, and in that race you carry the weighty baton of current medical knowledge in order to someday pass on more knowledge to a new generation not yet born, a generation who will depend greatly on how you have improved the profession in medical science for the benefit of others,” Neilson said.
“In arriving at this momentous transition, I hope you realize that you’re not entering a trade or a guild and you’re not an apprentice, rather you’ve joined a learned profession, and in this profession you are my colleagues from day one.”
Marianne Green, MD, senior associate dean for Medical Education, presented the members of the MD class of 2020. Each of the newly minted physicians’ names and pictures were featured on the screen as their names were called.
After degrees were conferred, Max Kelsten, ’20 MD, addressed his classmates on the importance of community and manifesting compassion when practicing the art of medicine.
“In times of uncertainty, values fortify. Medical professionals are being referred to as heroes and looked to for strength. We can lead by demonstrating the spirit of medicine that has guided physicians’ moral conscience for centuries: compassion,” Kelsten said. “In doing so, we exemplify the bedrock of equality, the belief in the potential, beauty and value of every living person. We do this not only through our research, advocacy and clinical care, but also the way in which we listen, counsel and console.”
After the commencement ceremony concluded, Neilson virtually led the graduates in reciting the Declaration of Geneva, the modern version of the Hippocratic oath — the same one they took as first-year medical students at Founders’ Day.
Twenty-four graduating students were inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. Six students received Magna Cum Laude in Scientia Experimentali and 11 received Cum Laude in Scientia Experimentali. Eight students graduated Summa Cum Laude, seven graduated Magna Cum Laude and seven graduated Cum Laude.
Many also completed a variety of Feinberg’s dual-degree programs; four graduates received a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, five earned a Master’s Degree in Medical Humanities & Bioethics, eleven received a Master’s Degree in Public Health and nine completed a PhD in the Medical Scientist Training Program.
“I want to emphasize how honored and humbled I am to be graduating with the class of 2020. My colleagues have been so incredibly inspiring and really pushed me to amplify my own voice,” said Bianca Lavelle, ’20 MD. “I am so astounded and so inspired by my strong colleagues and I hope to continue to make them proud and stay in touch and collaborate with them in the future.”
Lavelle will be pursuing a residency in internal medicine at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University, and said she is confident that what she’s learned at Feinberg has prepared her well to take on the next steps in her career.
“Going to medical school has always been dream of mine and it’s very surreal to be graduating. I feel confident that I’m well prepared by my Northwestern family,” Lavelle said. “With the uncertain times, it definitely is a little bit daunting to be entering the workforce right now, but I feel very well supported and I’m ready for the next challenge. I’m really excited to be able to lend a hand and use all of the tools that Feinberg has given me and the preparedness that I feel to be ready to work on the front lines and lend a hand.”
While a virtual commencement ceremony this year meant she couldn’t graduate in the presence of her friends and family, Lavelle thanked those who have supported her during her medical school journey and expressed gratitude for being able to celebrate virtually.
“I owe so much of my success to my parents, my grandparents and my friends who have gotten me through this journey,” Lavelle said. “It’s disappointing to not be sharing this day with them in person, but I’m super grateful that we have the technology to be sharing a virtual graduation together.”