After the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on their final year as DMU students, members of the Class of 2021 had plenty to celebrate during Commencement activities May 26-28. While those events had to occur completely online last year, this year many were held both in-person and virtually, and the joy was palpable.
“This is a great day for our nation. A year ago, when I spoke at Commencement, we were in the middle of a worldwide health care crisis that would go on to claim the lives of more than three million people,” DMU President and CEO Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., stated during the University’s 121st Commencement ceremony. “Thanks to frontline health care workers, public health officials and scientists, we are in a better place, with effective vaccines, more rational dialogue and greater knowledge about the spread and control of the coronavirus.
“Graduates, you all weathered a year-plus like none other in our lives, a time of extreme uncertainty, tragedy, stress and seemingly endless adaptation from day to day and even hour by hour,” she said. “You demonstrated resilience, determination and passion for your ‘why’ – to make the world a better place.”
The ceremony was limited in the number of attendees, and everyone on the platform wore masks except when speaking. However, President Franklin greeted the graduates with fist bumps as they crossed the stage. “I could not be more proud on this day to know how you have endured, sacrificed and transcended to realize this moment,” she said.
She praised the graduates and other DMU students for stepping to serve the community during the pandemic while they also adapted to pandemic-altered academic and clinical demands. Their hours of service, she said, “portend the great power and potential that our students and graduates possess to help solve societal issues,” which will be critical given the “very real inequalities and injustices in our community and around the globe.”
“Graduates, I challenge you to fulfill this potential, as you have done through your education and training,” she added. “Know there is nothing beyond your ability so long as you are willing to apply your skills, demonstrate courage and use your voice. You have done hard things; know that you are equipped to do more. I challenge you to imagine a more just and equitable society, and then take action to achieve it. You are so ready for this.”
Keynote speaker Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, encouraged students to use in their careers the insights they gained about adaptation, public health and the alleviation of suffering. He also shared lessons he’s learned in life.
“I encourage you to understand the power of the gift of unconditional love of your fellow person. Understand the meaning and impact of leaving a positive legacy,” he said. “Cherish dignity and respect. Last, embrace your passions…It is the magic of passion that pushes us to achieve great things.”
Dr. Osterholm challenged the graduates to “reflect often on why you pursued this career path.” His “take” on the question, he said, is “bottom line, the world is staring down major problems, and we need you.”
“You know these problems, because we have experienced them together – climate change; population grown and equitable access to services; inadequate water and food supplies; a global infrastructure that is fragmented and in jeopardy. Continuing threats of terrorism. The high likelihood of future pandemics or other risks to public health, and more,” he said. “You will be the agents of consequential action and positive change. You will be the healers, the researchers and the scientists securing the health and well-being of future generations. When you are able to combine your body of technical knowledge with your love and passion for serving others, you will know great success and happiness…It is now your turn to lead the way with selfless service and compassion.”
Joining more than 15,000 DMU alumni who work in all 50 states and 13 countries, members of the DMU Class of 2021 are graduates of eight DMU programs: doctor of osteopathic medicine; doctor of podiatric medicine; doctor of physical therapy; and master’s degree programs in physician assistant studies, anatomy, biomedical sciences, health care administration and public health.