As Arlene Berman was beginning to describe what she was feeling after having just watched her daughter, Danielle Berman, MMS ’19, graduate, she paused. And, nothing came out of her mouth. The emotion of her daughter’s accomplishment overwhelmed her ability to articulate her feelings in the moment.
Danielle’s father, Gary Berman, stepped up and provided the words his wife was unable to convey.
“It was a struggle at the beginning for Danielle, but she fought through it and did very well,” said Gary Berman. “It was a long 25 months, but we’re very proud of her that she made it through. We knew she would.”
Parental pride and relief among the graduates was on full display at the 119th fall commencement of Salus University Oct. 15, 2019, inside the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. The Class of 2019 is the final graduating class of the first century of the founding of the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO), later renamed Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO). During this year’s commencement, the University bestowed doctoral and master’s degrees in Physician Assistant Studies
, Blindness and Low Vision Studies
, Occupational Therapy
and Clinical Optometry with an International Advanced Studies certificate.
The sacrifices the graduates and their families made was apparent. Nazanin Eyalati, AuD ’19, was holding her son, Milan, who would turn a year old the day after his mother’s graduation. She was thankful for the support she received during her time at Salus.
“It was pretty difficult, to be honest,” said Eyalati. “Having a baby while in school was so hard. But I did it, and my husband supported me a lot.”
Her husband, Ali Sadeghian, said his wife supported him while he was pursing his education and now it was his turn to do the same.
“We were trying to get work, life, family and education balanced and it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do,” said Sadeghian. “It was my turn to give back, but this time we had this little person as well. There was a bit more pressure and there was a lot of give-and-take and sacrifices from both of us to keep everything moving.”
It was a family affair as well for Monika Kumari, MMS ’19, who was “hooded” by her sister, Rajni Acharya, OD ’13, during the ceremony. Instituted by PCO, the long-standing tradition involves inviting alumni who are immediate family members to participate on stage in the “hooding” of their graduate.
“I was very emotional. I wanted to cry but I kept it together,” said Kumari of the shared graduation moment between sisters. “It felt amazing. I put a lot of effort and studying into this and my husband, sister and family supported me. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
“The fact that she graduated from the same school that I did was very emotional,” said Acharya. “When she first sent out word about graduation, she said she was going to ask the school if I was allowed to place her hood on her. And, she asked if I’d do it. I said ‘Of course I would, definitely.’”
Relief was the overriding emotion for Affan Ghiyas, AuD ’19, who said he’s already secured a job with a hearing aid company. “For the past two years, I’ve been struggling. It’s been a lot of work, but this part is all done. I feel tremendous and very excited,” she said.
The keynote speaker was Pennsylvania Sen. Maria Collett, who represents the 12th District across parts of Montgomery and Bucks counties in suburban Philadelphia. Collett, who served as Deputy Attorney General in Camden County, N.J., and then transitioned into a career in nursing working as a Level I trauma nurse in pediatric home health and long-term care working with aging adults before she successfully ran for public office, challenged the students to develop a vision for their futures.
“Vision is a precursor to goals, to plans and to actions. It’s quite literally how you see the world. Your vision is your motivation,” said Sen. Collett. “Your vision isn’t a mission statement or a meticulously laid-out plan, it’s about the hope that we all have within us that many never tap into. When times are hard, and they inevitably will be, I challenge each of you to rely on your vision to remind you that there is a tomorrow worth fighting for.”
Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD, MPH, LDH (Hon.) MBA, also challenged the students to embrace the opportunities given to them.
“You have to have the courage and determination to transform all of these opportunities that you’ve had into true accomplishments,” said Dr. Mittelman. “You’ve all been given a great gift, now it’s time to transform all you have learned into something more useful and sustainable. I have no doubt in my mind that you’re going to be successful in everything that you do.”
Among the awards bestowed upon on the Class of 2019 included:
- Master of Science in Clinical Optometry Program Alumni Association Award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Meihua Ding and Lan Hu.
- Leadership Award (demonstrated exceptional leadership in organizing, administering and advocating excellence in international optometry) – Lan Hu and Xiandong Tang.
- Blindness and Low Vision Studies Program Alumni Association award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Jeanne A. Aaron.
- Public Health Program Alumni Association Award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Kimberly Chuo Cembrano and Robert Paul Chelberg.
- Physician Assistant Studies Program Alumni Association Award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Tyler Garrett Huntington.
- Clinic Excellence Award (demonstrated excellence in the clinical phase of the PA program) – Toby Heller.
- Pi Alpha National Honor Society – Jennifer Rose Cueni, Kimberly Rose Lightfoot, Evan Harold Schulz, Caroline A. Slattery, Wai Yong Tang, Jaden Elizabeth Taylor and Kaitlin Grace Van Winkler.
- Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program Alumni Association Award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Nabilia Shaira Enam.
- Doctor of Audiology Program Alumni Association Award (attainment of the highest academic average) – Chingcle Sagad Garcia and Lisa Michele Hiller.
The graduation ceremony was the culmination of two days of celebrating the achievements of the graduates, which started Oct. 14, 2019, with a luncheon, where several individual awards were presented (listed above), and was followed up with the PA program’s ceremonial long white coat ceremony.
Students at the long white coat ceremony marched in to the smooth sounds of New Orleans jazz to take their seats in the banquet hall.
“When I think back to your interviews, we saw something in each and every one of you,” said Donna M. Agnew, MSPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, PA program director, who pointed out that the Class of 2019 had collectively seen 68,000 patients. “We’ve seen you mature from students to clinicians. We’ve seen your eyes become smarter, your hands become smarter.”
Among the awards presented at the long white coat ceremony included:
- Preceptor Outstanding Service – Motaz Almosi, MD
- Preceptor of the Year – Valerie Weiss, MD
- Honorary Pi Alpha – David Smith, PA-C
Alumnus of the Year – Daniel Millward, MMS, PA-C
, who shared with the student was he believed it means to be a physician assistant. “It’s a unique opportunity to be a part of a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “It means more than just seeing patients, though. It means you’ll be there for your patients.”
During his presentation, class president Cortlin Dell, PA ’19, praised the professors. “You taught us not only medicine, but also what it means to be compassionate providers,” he said.