All hail, the class of 2009!

Thursday, June 11th, 2009
By: Cynthia McMullen

Opening the School of Pharmacy’s 2009 hooding and diploma ceremony, Dean Victor Yanchick remarked on the number of young children attending the May 16 event at St. Paul’s Baptist Church.

“It’s never too early to recruit,” he said, smiling.

Indeed, it’s not. Especially if those youngsters were moved, like much of the audience, as the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” accompanied this year’s bumper crop of graduates down the aisle and into their seats.

This class, comprising 122 Pharm.D. graduates, bears the distinction of being the largest in the school’s history.

Sheldon Retchin, VCU vice president for health sciences and CEO for VCU Health System, offered special congratulations: This class is the first to include a group of graduates who spent their third and fourth years on the School of Pharmacy’s Inova Campus.

“How many of you have jobs?” he asked. “Raise your hands.”

“You’re wrong,” Retchin said as dozens of hands shot up. “You have careers.” Possibilities for the class of 2009 are endless, he noted, given that their next career moves range from community practice to internships, residencies and postgraduate studies.

“You are earning the right to take risks,” Retchin said. “But don’t get too wild!” Graduates have earned the right to love their work, he added. “Love what you do every day.”

Michaiah Parker, class president, presented the Class of 2009 Endowed Scholarship to the school. The scholarship is off to a good start at $10,000.

The class goal, she said, is to pay it forward and give unto others.

In her address, Jennifer Neal, honor council representative, said, “Today, 122 of the most industrious people I know are graduating. We chose this field for the right reason … . We want to help people.”

William Zellmer, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists writer-in-residence and a new affiliate faculty member in the school’s Department of Pharmacy, delivered the convocation address. He began by crediting the faculty for filling the field with bright, energetic and creative individuals.

Zellmer’s theme, “Toward a More Perfect Profession,” was inspired by the first 15 words of the United States Constitution. What graduates need, he suggested, is to understand the history of pharmacy, to understand what brought them to this point as experts in the field. They also need to be able to tell compelling stories that will help people understand what they do for a living.

Studies, he said, prove that the presence of a pharmacist on a health-care team significantly improves patient care and lowers cost.

“You can help move the profession forward,” Zellmer said. “The people who use medicines await you.”

Thomas Reinders, associate dean for admissions and student services, presented the 2009 graduates, while Donna Proffitt and Brigitte Sicat, assistant professors of pharmacy, served as marshals and hooders. There were a few exceptions, though, including: Erika Bailey, who was hooded by her grandfather, William Barr, professor of pharmacy; and Melissa Carroll, who was hooded by her father-in-law, Norman Carroll, professor of pharmacy. Richard Krieg Jr., professor of anatomy and neurobiology, did the honors for his daughter, Kathryn Krieg.

(Other interesting class of ’09 trivia? Two sets of twins: Eric and Steven Colpo and Akil and Bassim Mousa. Not to mention at least one married couple: Jon and Bridget Lowe Gallahan. And the recipient of the inevitable “Free Bird” shout-out? Ryan Leftwich.)

Following the presentation of diplomas, Parker reflected on the Pharm.D. class of 2009’s collective experience. One hundred and thirty students entered as strangers, she said, but quickly found friends that will last a lifetime. Among their common experiences were being the first class to have video-conferencing to the Inova Campus and being enrolled at the school during such life-changing events as the Virginia Tech tragedy, Hurricane Katrina and the election of President Barack Obama.

“Remember the lives you touch,” she said.

William Smith, executive associate dean, administered the Pharmacist’s Oath, advising graduates to “Make it part of your DNA.”

“What you have achieved in the last four years is your foundation for the future,” said Yanchick, in closing. But bear in mind, he said, that the health-care industry is about to undergo major changes.

“The health-care environment will not continue to exist in its current form. You’ll be held more and more accountable. … Your future is yours to create.

“Remember, graduation is not an ending. It’s your commencement, your beginning.

“You have your wings. It’s time to fly.”

For a complete list of Pharm.D., M.S., Ph.D. and combined degree recipients, please click here.