About 500 people packed UF’s University Auditorium and watched as the beaming students crossed the stage one by one and shook hands, received hoods, accepted diplomas and earned new titles: Gator physician assistants.
On June 20, the 61 members of the UF College of Medicine School of Physician Assistant Studies celebrated commencement, a symbol of their transition from pupils to professionals.
“We’ve enjoyed having you with us here at the University of Florida, but to be honest, we’re glad you’re graduating because your future patients, our medical system and, indeed, the entire nation needs you,” said UF President W. Kent Fuchs, Ph.D., to the new graduates. “Society needs your knowledge, abilities, your compassion, your leadership and especially your UF values.”
The ceremony also included remarks from Ralph W. Rice, DHSc, PA-C, associate dean and director of the School of PA Studies, and Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine, who urged the graduates to believe in their potential, work hard, seek joy and find balance between their lives and careers.
“Life’s lessons are medicine’s lessons,” said guest speaker James Otwell Smith, M.D., a Tampa physician who serves as a preceptor for UF’s PA students. “Stare your fear in the face, love what’s worth loving … do what’s right.”
During the event, several students received accolades for outstanding performance. Megan Pemberton accepted the Outstanding Academic Year Student Award, Ashley Skidmore took home the Outstanding Clinical Year Student Award and Hector Bird received the Kenneth R. Lewis Leadership and Humanitarian Award.
Faculty members were honored during commencement as well. Shalon Buchs, MHS, PA-C, associate director and admissions coordinator for the School of PA Studies, received the Outstanding Academic Year Instructor Award while Robert Hollander, M.D., a preceptor and physician at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, earned the Outstanding Clinical Year Instructor Award.
The ceremony also included recognition of the 22 class officers in the class of 2015 and a special acknowledgment of four students and two faculty members for their service in the U.S armed forces.
After the last student received her hood and diploma, families and friends gathered in the hot sun to greet the new graduates. A sea of black caps and gowns spilled into the crowd of grinning loved ones and proud parents such as Blount Shepard, a South Carolina architect who traveled to Gainesville to watch his daughter graduate.
“I hope she helps people get well and that she finds her career meaningful,” he said of Martha Shepard, a former athletic trainer who he said always took an interest in the allied health field.
While fulfilling careers may be waiting outside classroom walls for the newest alumni of the School of PA Studies, they know graduation doesn’t mark the end of learning.
“We enter this world with the tools to treat and sometimes cure human disease, but we do so knowing that as health care providers, we will always be students,” said class president Dexter Allen Burney. “As we exit this auditorium… it is with honor and service that we go forth to represent The Gator Nation.”