It’s not difficult to spot Graham Seering, MMS ‘21
, in a crowd, like the one that gathered for the University’s 123rd commencement Oct. 12 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. That’s because at 6’7” Seering towered above most of his Class of 2021 classmates.
“Whenever he’s in a crowd, all I have to do it look for the tallest one and there he is,” said his mom, Bridgid Seering, who traveled with family from Maryland to see her son graduate. “He’s done such a good job sticking to it and getting through it. He’s going to make such a wonderful physical assistant.”
And, although he oftentimes has a clear sightline from the top floor on events like this, it was Seering’s elevated view of his classmates that he wanted to share after the ceremony.
“This class is absolutely incredible. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we have all become really good friends and classmates. It’s amazing how close we’ve become and how much we really enjoy being around each other,” said Seering, who played basketball in high school and still enjoys a pickup game when he can find one. “It’s really something special. This is a really tight group and it made going through this a lot easier.”
The “this” he’s referring to is the pandemic. When the Class of 2021 students in the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program started two years ago, they were only six months into their graduate schooling when the pandemic hit. And, up until graduation day, the challenges the class faced and the adjustments the students had to make made walking to receive their diplomas — the first in-person commencement ceremony for the University since the pandemic — even more special.
During this year’s fall commencement, the University bestowed doctoral and master’s degrees in the professions of Audiology, Blindness and Low Vision Studies, Biomedicine, Clinical Audiology, Clinical Optometry with an International Advanced Studies certificate, Occupational Therapy, Optometry and Physician Assistant Studies.
Perseverance and determination from the Class of 2021 was the theme for the day. Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE
, praised the students for handling a hybrid learning environment that required them to improvise, adapt and overcome.
“And, there were lots of obstacles. But you did it with grace and form, and that helped you gain confidence and expertise that is going to serve you well in your professional careers,” said Dr. Mittelman. “Whether you realize it or not, training under these circumstances have provided you with an extraordinary opportunity to think outside the box and develop critical thinking skills.”
Neisha M. Rodriguez Ruiz, PhD ‘21
, delivered the graduate commencement address, and she, too, cited the degree of difficulty the Class of 2021 encountered and conquered to make it to graduation day.
“The past two years have been atypical, to say the least. The challenges posed by the lack of student-professor interactions, the absence of campus life and the bad Internet connections have made this herculean task even more so,” she said. “Despite its drawbacks, the pandemic taught us to know ourselves and experiment with the tools we have, enabling us to fuse the manual and technology to create a new type of homeostasis that can put to work the best versions of ourselves.”
The University awarded keynote speaker Alison Beam, acting Secretary of Health for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Although she was unable to attend the ceremony in person, she addressed the students via video, challenging the graduates to “embrace the uncertainty that has become so routine” and offered some suggestions for “thinking big.”
“First, don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” she said. “To think big, you must not let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
In addition, Beam urged students to prioritize communication of their big thinking and that much of the necessary communication will require listening. And, lastly, she suggested the graduates appreciate the urgency of the moment and realize their time is limited.
“Every time your big thinking drops you to you knees, stand up again. You will be more clever, more resilient and more cognizant about what is happening to cause you that setback,” said Beam. “Your mind will not let you be hit like that again.”
She left the students with one more piece of advice: Remembering that how you treat yourself is of utmost importance.
“You are the final appraiser of your value in this life, and the only one that matters. Recognize that there are circumstances that will require great discipline from you, but never forget to afford yourself grace,” she said.
A return to an in-person ceremony at the Kimmel Center was a welcome and familiar change from the past two years and the families and friends of the graduates gathered in the area outside the auditorium after the ceremony to take photos, present flowers and exchange congratulatory hugs.
“It feels kind of crazy. The past two years really flew by and I’m excited to be here,” said Nikita Limaye, MMS ‘21
, whose parents and sister traveled from Poughkeepsie, New York, for the ceremony. “Nikita is the first PA in our family and we are so happy and proud,” said father Vishnu Limaye, a sentiment echoed by mother Mrinalini Limaye. “She’s worked very hard for it and has finally earned it.”