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Published in CenterView on May 30, 2013

Graduation Tales

Commencement stories are as diverse as the students who tell them

Sharae Parker

Parker_sharaeAlmost everyone was satisfied with her MCAT score – except Sharae Parker.

“I heard I did well enough to get into medical school, but I didn’t think so,” Parker said.

After college, the Columbia native deferred her dream – using the time to work, study and ease a family crisis.

Now, at age 30 and married, the Pearl resident has a few years on many of her fellow medical school graduates — years she used to validate her conviction that becoming a doctor “is the right thing to do.”

She was a young girl when she began to reach that conclusion. Her pediatrician “was awesome,” she said.

“It was the way he interacted with me and my mom. He made it exciting to go to the doctor.

“This made me want to see more.”

In high school, she shadowed a doctor on career day.

“I loved it,” she said. “I thought that this was what I wanted to do.”

As she discovered later, she was better suited to Ob-Gyn.

“You have that adrenaline rush. You get to do surgery,” she said. “There’s also the continuity of care.

“I love that I’m making a difference in someone’s life for the better. The excitement of delivering a baby is indescribable.”

Parker learned this in medical school. But it took a while to get there. After her disappointing MCAT score, she trained as a medical technologist and then worked in Birmingham, Ala., before returning home to help out her parents financially for a year.

“They weren’t happy about that, which was just pride,” she said. “They were happy that I was coming back home.”

With their support, and a “much better” MCAT score behind her, she entered medical school, where she became winner of the Joey Purvis Memorial Fund Award for the student who demonstrates compassion.

She’s the first in her family to become a doctor – and the first to say her family deserves to share the credit for her degree.

“They can claim it as theirs, too.”

Daniel Lyons

Lyons_DanielThe heart attack that took his father sent Daniel Lyons on a trajectory toward medical research and the Ph.D. in biochemistry he recently earned.

“Having your father die and seeing the fallout afterward really impacts a 14-year-old,” Lyons said. “It shows you the value and significance of human life.

“It’s something not many teenagers think about.”

Though an insight gained through tragedy, Lyons knew his life’s work should directly impact preventable deaths. He matched that imperative with an inborn thirst to understand how things work.

As an undergraduate student at Belhaven College, Lyons had the opportunity to work in the lab of Dr. Drazen Raucher, professor of biochemistry. He described that experience as transformative.  

“I saw that medicine is wonderful, but it still has limits,” Lyons said. “As I was talking to him (Raucher), I could see the importance of research that keeps looking further into the complex problems of diseases.”

Lyons acknowledged many people gave him aid and insight along his journey.
His mother, a physician, set aside her practice to home school her children through high school.

He met his wife, Amanda, at Belhaven.

Raucher, and Lyons’ graduate mentor, Dr. Jack Correia, professor of biochemistry, welcomed him into their labs and measured him against lofty standards.

Dr. Gailen Marshall, professor of allergy and immunology, and Dr. Roland Garretson, associate professor of gastroenterology, who proved role models.

In May, the School of Graduate Studies honored Lyons with its Charles Randall-Trustmark Graduate Research Award. Ultimately, he plans to investigate cardiovascular disease, but he faces another challenge first.

This year, Lyons starts medical school. For that journey, he’s already got a study partner in his sister, Kathleen, who joins him in the class of 2017.

Leslie Frese

frese_leslieLong before entering the School of Dentistry, Leslie Frese developed a love for traveling.

“My dad and I are both pilots, and growing up, we would just fly wherever the plane could take us,” said Frese, a native of Birmingham, Ala.

After graduating with her D.M.D., Frese’s first order of business is to combine that love of travel with her new dentistry skills.

In June, Frese will travel to a small village in Papua New Guinea, one of the least-explored areas left on the map. There she’ll work with a dentist at a missionary village called Ukarumpa.

After that, she’ll spend 10-11 months in Cambodia, where a mission organization has a dental clinic in the capital of Phnom Pehn.

“I’ll work half of my time in the American dental clinic, where I’ll see regular patients that come in,” she said. “And part of my time will be with Mercy Medical Clinic, and I will travel around Cambodia to different provinces holding dental clinics for the poor in those areas.”

She won’t be paid for her services, so she looks at it as an overseas residency. She’s sold her car, is renting her house and is getting some support from her church.

“’I want to learn the best way to do dental missions,” she said. “It’s something I want to do my whole life.

“And now that I’m a dentist and I’ve been on other trips, I want to learn more about how it works.”

The jungle will be a new experience for her, but Frese has long been enjoying the outdoors and loves running with her dog, Cole. Though this is one trip Cole will have to miss.

“Cole is going to stay with friends while I’m gone,” she said.


Maranda Jordan

jordan_marandaDuring her senior-year synthesis rotation in the Pediatric Emergency Department, traditional nursing student Maranda Jordan noticed so many parents were convinced their children had fever simply because they felt hot to the touch.

Although they had no thermometers to verify the diagnosis, the parents would bring their children to the emergency room.

It dawned on Jordan that this seemingly simple problem could easily lead to over-medicating or under-medicating the children or unnecessary trips to the ER.

“This was something I couldn’t let go. I felt like we had to do something,” Jordan said.

With the encouragement of her preceptor, Mike Boyanton, and Skye Stoker, nurse manager, Jordan launched a fund-raiser, selling T-shirts and tank tops featuring a “Keep Our Kids Cool” theme designed by classmate Olivia Oberschmidt. Proceeds from the T-shirt sales were used to purchase thermometers for the ER.

“The School of Nursing set a goal of 250 thermometers to donate,” she said. Earlier this month, she presented the ER with 1,000 thermometers.

“We hope it becomes an annual thing,” said Jordan, who has recruited classmates to continue the effort next year. And with help from her advisors, Dr. Molly Moore and Dr. Carl Mangum, she plans to collect data each month on how many parents come into the ER without thermometers, how many thermometers are given out each month and how many patients who received thermometers return to the ER.

The research won’t be that hard for her to maintain despite the fact that she graduates this month.

“The Peds ER offered me a job after I graduate,” she said. “I love pediatrics in the emergency care setting. You’re not just treating the patients, but you’re also teaching the parents.”


La’Fera Pope

Pope_laferaSinging, dancing and acting aren’t skills typically taught in the School of Health Related Profession’s Dental Hygiene Program.

But with her own natural talent, graduating SHRP student La’Fera Pope is helping the American Dental Hygienists’ Association celebrate 100 years of the profession.

The Terry native entered a video contest to promote the national organization’s upcoming annual meeting and won first place, beating out students from across the country.

Connecticut dentist Dr. Alfred Fones coined the term “dental hygienist” and established the first school of dental hygiene in 1913. Since the tagline for the video contest was “Proud Past, Unlimited Future,” Pope said she went through different decades and different eras to prepare her video.

With help from her boyfriend, who served as videographer, Pope portrayed a singing and dancing Danny and Sandy from the musical “Grease” and a “disco freak” from the 1970s. She even busted out some “running man” choreography for M. C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” song, among other time travels in her video.

Mild-mannered off screen, Pope also has a passion for traveling and teaching oral health care to others. She went to Belize with seven of her classmates on a mission trip in March. And the ADHA has invited her to next month’s conference in Boston, where her video will be presented to thousands of hygienists.

“It’s already opened some doors,” she said. “So I’m just looking forward to what God has in store, to what other opportunities are out there.”

To view the award-winning video, visit