USF Health graduates celebrate milestone at commencement ceremony

It was an unforgettable night for USF Health students at the 111th USF Commencement Ceremony – marking the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new journey.

More than 450 students walked across the big stage on May 5 at the USF Sun Dome to receive their doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in front of their peers, professors, friends, families, USF leaders and distinguished guests.

USF Health students graduate at the 111th USF Commencement Ceremony on May 5 at the USF Sun Dome. 

“Today, you join a community of scholars that spans the world; a community that has sought truth through knowledge,” said USF System President Judy Genshaft. “It’s a community that for centuries has chosen a relentless pursuit of possibilities. A community that treasures the value of differences and diversity of thought.”

USF System President Judy Genshaft addresses the Spring 2017 USF Health graduates.

In its third year, the USF Health Commencement brought together students from College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing, College of Public Health, Morsani College of Medicine’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs and School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences. This year, USF College of Pharmacy graduated its largest class to date.

The USF Health graduates were among 5,700 students to graduate in Spring 2017 from across the USF System. The diverse group of students came from 50 states and 106 nations.

Students celebrate their milestone before walking across the big stage.

During the ceremony, President Genshaft honored outstanding students who overcame odds to successfully complete their degrees.

  • Giovanna Middlebrook, a student from the USF College of Pharmacy, was recognized for her courage to overcome adversity after moving to the United States from Bolivia with her mother when she was 6 years old. When she arrived to the United States, she did not speak English, so the transition was not easy. Despite those challenges, she successfully completed the Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
  • Kyle Watterson, doctoral student in the health services research program at the College of Public Health, donated bone marrow through the Be The Match Foundation to honor his late father-in-law – one of his biggest supporters. While in the PhD program, Watterson taught various physical therapy, policy and management classes. He was also the recipient of numerous student research awards from the College of Public Health and the Morsani College of Medicine.
  • Jin Wei, who graduated with his PhD in medical science from Morsani College of Medicine, is thankful to USF for providing him the proper education and training to foster his career in cardiovascular research. While in the program, Wei received numerous cardiovascular research awards from USF and other research organizations.
  • Jennifer Kirlangitis, a registered nurse for almost 30 years, came to USF to pursue the registered nurse to bachelor of science in nursing (RN-BS) program from College of Nursing. While raising four children and working full-time as a nurse, Kirlangitis graduated with top honors.

Excited students gear up for a memorable commencement ceremony. 

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, joined President Genshaft in congratulating all the graduates for their outstanding academic achievement.

“We’re incredibly proud of all our students for accomplishing this incredible milestone,” Dr. Lockwood said. “Over the course of the last few years, they’ve really learned to work together interprofessionally as a team including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and public health experts. So, this is a valuable and unique aspect of the education they receive here at USF Health.”

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, honors students who graduated with top honors. 

During the event, Dr. Lockwood recognized students who consistently met the highest level of academic performance. One of them was Mary Alao, a student in the bachelor’s of science program at the College of Public Health. She received the King O’Neal award for graduating with a 4.0 GPA. She was one of 34 students in the USF System Spring 2017 graduating class to receive such recognition.

President Genshaft and Dr. Lockwood presented the USF Honorary Degree to Julio Frenk, MD, PhD, president of the University of Miami. Dr. Frenk is a well-known physician from Mexico, who has helped transform health care for many decades.

President Genshaft and Dr. Lockwood presented the USF Honorary Degree to Julio Frenk, MD, PhD, president of the University of Miami. Donna Petersen, ScD, dean of the USF College of Public Health and interim dean of the College of Nursing, assists with the ceremonial hooding.

Prior to joining University of Miami, Dr. Frenk was the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the T&G Angelopoulos professor of Public Health and International Development, a joint appointment with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

From 2000 to 2006, Dr. Frenk served as the Minister of Health for Mexico. While there, he pursued an ambitious agenda to reform the nation’s health system. He also introduced a program of comprehensive universal coverage, known as Seguro Popular, which expanded access to health care for more than 55 million uninsured Mexicans. He was also the founding director-general of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, one of the leading institutions of its kind in the developing world.

Dr. Frenk addresses the Spring 2017 graduates after receiving the USF Honorary Degree. 

“Whether you are receiving a degree from the colleges of medicine, pharmacy, nursing or public health, you have made an existential commitment to improving the human condition through your unique blend of knowledge, skills, strength and your compassionate care,” Dr. Frenk said in his address to the Spring 2017 USF Health graduates after receiving his honorary degree from USF.

As part of the USF Commencement tradition, PhD student Lecia Brown, who migrated to United States from Jamaica at 9 years old, was selected to give the student address at the ceremony. Brown completed her PhD in medical sciences with a concentration in neuroscience at the Morsani College of Medicine. During her speech, she told fellow graduates that standing up at the podium was a big honor and privilege.

Lecia Brown, PhD student in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, addresses fellow graduates.

“Graduates, you are at the top, but your journey is just beginning,” said Brown, who started LAMB Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to children in Jamaica.  “You can transform your success into tools to enable someone else’s success. This may be your last degree, but the truth is, no matter where you are on this path, never stop dreaming and chasing your dreams.”

USF College of Pharmacy students celebrate their big day.

Story by Vjollca Hysenlika and photos by Sandra C. Roa, USF Health Communications and Marketing