While the vocalists who perform the national anthem at Des Moines University’s annual Commencement ceremony typically do so as soloists, a singing trio of graduating osteopathic medical students was more fitting for this year’s 123rd Commencement on June 1, 2023.
“It’s an honor to be able to give something to the ceremony. We felt that performing as a group would be more indicative of what we went through as a class,” says Ben Peters, D.O.’23.
“Music got us out of our apartment during COVID,” adds fellow vocalist Austin Jasniewski, D.O.’23, M.P.H.’23. “It’s a special thing to be able to perform at our graduation.”
Special in part because the majority of the 385 graduates continued or began their DMU degree programs as the COVID-19 pandemic changed countless aspects of daily life.
“Graduates, you demonstrated extraordinary courage and resilience during your DMU education,” DMU President and CEO Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., told the class. “You began your studies as, or soon after, the coronavirus tragically stole lives, reshaped our world and sparked debates about science and health. You and your faculty had to adjust to virtual learning amid unknowns and uncertainties. Yet you stayed the course toward careers of service. You have developed and demonstrated the character, knowledge and fortitude to take on whatever lies ahead.”
Providing the keynote address was Megan Srinivas, M.D., M.P.H., an infectious disease physician, public health policy researcher and legislator representing District 30 in the Iowa House of Representatives. When she won that office in 2022, she became the youngest woman of color ever elected to the Iowa Legislature.
In her keynote, she encouraged the graduates to use their “new superpowers” that come with the trust and authority given to members of health professions. She reflected on the lessons she’d learned from her older brother that, she said, “have taught me how to use the letters behind my name well.” The first is understanding the importance of diversity in all its forms and collaboration to devise new solutions to improve patient outcomes, professional satisfaction and profitability in health care.
Other lessons include the importance of advocacy in effecting positive change. “In the world we live in, politics and policy determine what happens when it comes to many health care decisions. We can’t afford to be silent because of our profession but also for the communities in which we live. We must advocate,” Srinivas said.
“If you truly want to give holistic care to the person who walks into your clinic room or hospital, you need to think about every aspect of their life, how it’s impacted by the systems in which we live, and how you can use your newfound superpowers to create positive change for them,” she concluded. “The way you truly create positive change is not just by showing up to work for your patients, but showing up in every space and using your gravitas to create the world that we all deserve.”
President Franklin also charged the graduates to use “that superpower we call a DMU education to define and drive your life of service.”
“Commit to your role in fulfilling our noble mission in the provision of medical care, in the advancement of scientific knowledge and in strengthening our systems of health care and public health to serve all people and populations,” she said.
The grand marshal for the ceremony was Roger Senty, D.O., a 1958 graduate of Des Moines Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery, now DMU. He joined his medical alma mater’s surgery department in 1967 and then became dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1971. In that role, he led the successful relocation of the institution from downtown Des Moines to a new campus – formerly a Catholic girls’ school – at 3200 Grand Ave., Des Moines.
The past is repeating itself, as DMU is moving its academic degree programs and research to a new campus at 8025 Grand Ave., West Des Moines.
In addition to the graduates, honored during the ceremony was Maria Patestas, Ph.D., who became professor emerita of anatomy. She joined the DMU faculty in 1993, achieved tenure in 2001 and was promoted to professor in 2009. In addition to her years of teaching students in the university’s osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine, physician assistant studies, physical therapy and anatomy programs, she is co-author of a major medical textbook on neuroanatomy and through her positive impact on thousands of DMU graduates.
In other Commencement activities last week, DMU held awards ceremonies for program graduates in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery and College of Health Sciences. During the annual military commissioning ceremony, graduates in the military were honored and officially transitioned as commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.