UMMC graduates persevere despite pandemic-driven disruptions
Published on Friday, May 28, 2021
By: Ruth Cummins, email@example.com
You could say the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Class of 2020 graduated online, but commencement for the Class of 2021 moved a step closer to “normal.”
Promotion of social distancing limited attendance at ceremonies Thursday and Friday at the Mississippi Coliseum, but graduates got some of what others missed during the worst days of COVID-19. Of this year’s graduating class of 862 students spread over six health sciences schools, 671 walked across the stage during three graduation ceremonies over two days in cap and gown to receive their diplomas in person.
“It’s good to know that there is a new generation of University of Mississippi Medical Center trained health professionals to whom we can look for care,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the UMMC School of Medicine, told graduates and their families and friends.
“As they move forward from today and begin practicing their chosen profession, we know that they have been provided a firm foundation that will support them and help guide their thoughts and actions as they successfully navigate the future,” Woodward said. “We will follow their careers with interest – and take great pride in the contributions they make in their chosen disciplines and to the communities in which they live.”
All of UMMC’s ceremonies were livestreamed so that friends and family could cheer on their graduates. Click here to view the School of Nursing ceremony held at 10 a.m. May 27, the School of Health Related Professions ceremony held at 2 p.m. May 27, and the ceremony for the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, and Population Health held at 10 a.m. May 28.
Total degrees conferred include:
- School of Medicine, 139 graduates receiving the Doctor of Medicine degree.
- School of Dentistry, 39 graduates receiving the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and 20 graduates receiving the Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene.
- School of Nursing, 362 graduates receiving either the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing, or Doctor of Nursing Practice.
- School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, 106 graduates receiving either the Doctor of Philosophy or the Master of Science.
- School of Health Related Professions, 187 graduates receiving either the Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Occupational Therapy, or Doctor of Health Administration; Master of Occupational Therapy, Health Sciences, Health Informatics and Information Management, Magnetic Resonance Imaging or Nuclear MedicineTechnology; or Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences, Medical Laboratory Science, Health Sciences, or Health Informatics and Information Management.
- School of Population Health, nine graduates receiving either the Master of Science in Biostatistics and Data Science, Population Health Science or Population Health Management.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce reminded graduates, via an audio recording played for all in attendance to hear, how much their faculty influenced their path toward commencement.
“As you move forward and begin to practice your chosen profession, we know that you have developed a firm foundation to guide your thoughts and actions as you navigate the future,” Boyce said. “Please know that we are your biggest supporters and will follow your careers with interest. We take great pride in the contributions you will make in your chosen disciplines, and to the communities in which you live and serve.”
New School of Medicine graduate Keshawn Pope of Starkville will begin a radiology internship this summer at the Medical Center, then four years of residency at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
His decision to become a physician was in part inspired by his undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University: biomedical engineering.
“I was in between deciding whether to practice engineering or medicine, and I figured biomedical engineering would be a good middle ground,” Pope said.
But after taking part in biomedical engineering research and going to Honduras for several weeks and working with doctors there to bring health care to people in need, he made his choice. “All those things swayed me more toward medicine,” he said.
He’s taking with him life lessons gleaned from his time at UMMC. “I’ve learned good study techniques and to how to absorb as much material as I can, in a much more effective manner,” Pope said.
"Graduates of the School of Nursing’s Class of 2021 have already proven their tenacity and resolve,” Dr. Julie Sanford, dean of the School of Nursing, said during Thursday’s ceremonies. “They have chosen to study nursing during a pandemic, coping with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that have made their studies more difficult. They have prevailed because of the care they have for their patients.”
Makenzie Byrd, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, said the path toward graduation was challenging.
“Nursing school is difficult to begin with, but it is even more difficult when courses are moved online due to a pandemic,” Byrd said. “This is the characteristic that I love most about nurses. We are resilient. Our faculty and instructors went above and beyond to assist us in accommodating an online/virtual format.”
School of Health Related Professions Dean Dr. Jessica Bailey praised 2021 graduates for their determination.
“Although their worlds were turned upside down by COVID-19, they remained steadfast in working to finish their degrees,” Bailey said. “Many of them had to adjust to a completely different form of instruction strategies and testing methods, but they weren’t deterred. They have demonstrated a tremendous amount of perseverance and persistence, and I think the challenges of this past academic year will make them stronger allied health professionals.”
Emily Cole received her Doctor of Health Administration from SHRP. The Medical Center’s registrar and a staff member in the Office of Student Services and Records for 18 years, Cole was in a ceremony with students she enrolled.
“It gives me a greater appreciation for the type of students we have at UMMC and what they’ve gone through to receive their diplomas,” Cole said. “It gives me a fresh perspective for my job in student services.”
“Our hope is that their futures be filled with blessings, centered on service, and bring you peace,” Woodward said of this year’s graduates. “Even though many of their classes had been virtual and other accommodations were made in the name of safety, students are celebrating the beginning of their careers in the health sciences, or a new chapter in an existing one in this state and beyond.”
Among those receiving accolades Friday was Dr. Stephen Stray, associate professor of microbiology and immunology. He is the winner of the 2021 Regions TEACH Prize, given to the person who most represents the highest qualities of the Medical Center's academic faculty.
The seven students who received top honors were:
- Haley Jenkins, Waller S. Leathers Award for the medical student with the highest academic average for four years;
- David Spencer Remley, Wallace V. Mann Jr. Award for the dental student with the highest academic average for four years;
- Bishoy Samuel, John D. Bower Award to recognize exceptional potential in the field of population health.
- Makenzie Byrd, Christine L. Oglevee Memorial Award for the outstanding School of Nursing baccalaureate graduate;
- Jasmine McLendon, Richard N. Graves Award for the registered nurse deemed most outstanding by the faculty in clinical and overall performance;
- Madison Smith Reinhart, Dr. Virginia Stansel Tolbert award for the student with the highest academic average in the School of Health Related Professions.
- Jared Cobb, Robert A. Mahaffey Jr. Memorial Award to recognize exceptional research potential of young investigators.