Families and friends filled the seats at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on June 18 to celebrate the accomplishments of the 58 UF College of Medicine’s School of Physician Assistant Studies graduates. One seat was filled by a laptop.
“I am so proud of her and I love her so much,” said Greg Stone, the fiancé of Rachelle Gross, a 2011 PA graduate, via Skype. Stone is currently deployed in Iraq but did not want to miss his fiancée walk across the stage.
The ceremony began with a welcome from Ralph Rice, DHSc, PA-C, the associate dean and director of the UF PA school, who spoke about the significance of honoring the graduates’ journey that led to this day.
“We are sending out a fine group of people,” Rice said. “Some of the best-prepared to take care of the health of our nation.”
Commencement guest speaker Patrick Duff, M.D., associate dean for student affairs and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Medicine, apologized to the audience for having to turn his back to them, but he wanted to face the graduates, who sat behind him.
“The most exciting part of your journey is about to start,” Duff said. “I encourage you to stay compassionate at all times and to remain persistent and patient as you begin your career.”
He told the graduates to honor their commitments but also to find a proper balance in their lives between hospital and home.
Then a series of awards were announced that acknowledged students and faculty for their outstanding performance and commitment to education, including the honorable Kenneth R. Lewis Jr. M.D., Leadership and Humanitarian Award, which was given to Tamara Wood, the class of 2011 president.
Wood, who did not know she would be given this award, received a standing ovation as she was recognized for being a true leader in the community.
After the ceremony, the celebration continued outside the Phillips Center. Families and friends of the graduates were filled with sentiment and joy. Sherene Wilson, a UF PA graduate, shared an emotional moment with her loved ones.
“Sherene worked so hard and this truly is a dream come true,” said one of Wilson’s family members. “We are so proud of her.”