At Commencement, A Call for Healers

By: Debra Holtz

More than 400 nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and podiatric physicians received their degrees on May 24 during the Samuel Merritt University (SMU) commencement ceremonies at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.

Looking out over a sea of happy faces in black robes, commencement speaker Dr. Rupa Marya encouraged all of the graduates to work together as a “team of healers” to improve health for all people.

“We don’t use that word — healer — very often in the clinics and in the hospitals, our spaces where we see the sick and suffering. Instead we use more technical designations for what you do,” said Marya, an associate professor of medicine the University of California, San Francisco, and a social justice leader who focuses on the intersection of society and illness. “But today, I ask that you take on that word as an honor, because you are a part of a very long legacy of people committed to healing … and there is so much healing needed today in this world.”

First in their family

SMU President Dr. Ching-Hua Wang asked all of the graduates who are the first in their families to receive a higher education degree to stand and dozens rose to their feet to cheers from the audience. She honored the perseverance of those who overcame financial and personal challenges to achieve their degrees and said all of the graduates should be proud to join the front lines of saving lives.

“The need for dedicated health care professionals who serve with compassion has never been greater,” Wang said. “When you actively engage in health care, especially in underserved communities, your work is consequential and makes a profound difference in the lives of the people you serve.”

To accommodate the large number of graduates and their families and friends, two commencement ceremonies were held; a morning ceremony for master’s and doctoral programs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and podiatric medicine and an afternoon ceremony for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in the SMU School of Nursing.

Student speaker Brian Patrick Kuklok DPM ’19, one of the two valedictorians in the California School of Podiatric Medicine, congratulated his fellow graduates for successfully completing their challenging programs.

“We have pushed ourselves in ways we didn’t think possible,” said Kuklok. “Being at a university like Samuel Merritt prepared us well for what lies ahead.”

To reflect SMU’s commitment to interprofessional education, graduates from all of the health science programs joined in reciting a new version of the Hippocratic Oath, developed this year by the University to honor its values of collaboration, compassion, and diversity.

Honor students

During the commencement ceremonies, awards and honors were presented to students for academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to service. They included:

Outstanding Occupational Therapy Student Award: Jessalyn Gagui OTD ’19 and Nensha Betsy Kamara OTD ’19
Outstanding Physical Therapist Student Award: Lauren Michelle Tong DPT ’19
Podiatric Medicine Scepter Award – Brian Patrick Kuklok
Outstanding Student Award for Master of Science in Nursing—Case Management: Amanda Haley Prairie MSN ’19
Outstanding Student Award for Master of Science in Nursing—Family Nurse Practitioner: Francis Okwuosa MSN ’19



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