When Graham Seering, ‘21PA, stepped onto the stage to get his white coat, there were audible gasps throughout the audience. Standing at six feet, seven inches tall, Seering could very well be the tallest person in this year’s incoming group of students. And it may have occurred to more than one audience member, “Do they have a white coat big enough to fit this guy?”

Yes, they did. And for Seering, the reaction of the crowd and the emotion of the moment were palpable.

Students Getting their White Coats
“Absolute relief,” said Seering, of Baltimore, Md., after the ceremony when he described the moment that he first put on the white coat. “That was suddenly replaced by a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. In a split second, it went from high to low to high again. Now there’s a lot of studying, a lot of dedication, and a lot of collaboration with my fellow students. Hopefully we can all succeed and graduate and become the best healthcare providers we can be.”

The annual White Coat Ceremony, held August 16 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, featured 346 students in Optometry, Audiology, Physician Assistant Studies, Occupational Therapy, and Speech-Language Pathology who received the symbol of their professions – the white coat. It is tangible proof that the students have truly begun their professional journey.

There was some nervous anticipation before the ceremony, as students and their loved ones mulled about in the lobby of the Kimmel Center waiting for the proceedings to begin. And of course, there was a lot of pride as well.

“I’m a little nervous with all the anticipation of starting school and getting back into it,” said Lindsay Corle, ‘23OD, who was married three weeks earlier. “It’s pretty cool to get a white coat and to think that one day I’ll be a doctor.”

White Coat Ceremony- StudentsZillie and Stanley Abrams were there to support their grandson, Ethan Vogel, ‘23OD, of Riverdale, N.J. “I am so thrilled. He has come such a long way. I adore him, I love him, he’s wonderful,” gushed grandmother Zillie. “I’m almost as proud of him as she is,” joked grandfather Stanley. “I held him in my arms and now he’s a big dude. He’s smart, he’s hardworking and he should do very well.”

President Michael H. Mittelman, OD, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE told the students in his welcoming remarks that they were all now becoming healthcare providers which was something very special about that.

“But without patient-centric caring, the rest is meaningless,” said Dr. Mittelman. “I want you to take that pretty seriously. You’re going to be held to a higher standard.”

The keynote speaker was Michael Cowan, MD, FACP, VADM, USN (Retired), the 34th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, and a mentor for Dr. Mittelman, who served as Dr. Cowan’s executive assistant in the Navy for many years.

Dr. Cowan delivered an entertaining, yet poignant message to the students, emphasizing something that Salus has front and center in its mission: patient-centeredness. “If you ever think of doing something and it’s not in the best interest of patients, then you’re doing it wrong and you might want to rethink it,” said Dr. Cowan.

Drs. Mittelman and CowanThe secondary message that Dr. Cowan shared with the students was that they should try to make their lives meaningful. “You’re going to be successful. But don’t just be successful, have a meaning and decide what to do with it,” he said.

Those messages from Drs. Mittelman and Cowan were not lost on Tanvi Singh, ‘23OD.

“I felt proud and excited. I’m preparing myself for the road ahead and seeing myself practicing one day,” she said. “It’s important to remember that we’ll be professionals one day.”

It was the same for Erica Enarusai, ‘23OD, of Burlington, N.J.

“It was exactly what I’ve dreamt of. I felt empowered. I’m excited to start this new journey. It was a long time coming and this is the last stepping stone. But there’s four more years of hard work,” she said.

A handful of white coat recipients had a little extra emotion added to the day as they were presented their coats by members of their families, all of whom walked the walk before their students.

For David Boehme ‘23OD, of Pittsburgh, Pa., the ceremony was particularly memorable for him. He was presented the white coat by his father, Dr. Jeffrey Boehme, who graduated from the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 1987.

“It was pretty exciting knowing that this kind of officially put us into the student body of the College,” said Boehme. “And it was extra special because my dad was able to put it on me.”

And it was special for dad, too.

“It was awesome,” said Dr. Boehme. “It’s been a long road and we’re finally here. Getting through undergrad and finally getting accepted to Salus is truly a wonderful thing. I told him to just work hard. And I’m looking forward to when he can work with me in my practice.”

Students in White Coats
Once the white coat presentations began, it took 47 minutes for all the names to be called, ending with the final coat being placed on Oksana Zubrzycka, ‘23OD. All the students then stood, in a sea of white, and recited the Oath of Professionalism to conclude the ceremony.

“In academics, we most often celebrate the end of a journey with the graduation ceremony,” said Dr. Cowan. “But the future is more exciting than the past, and the ceremony that you and Salus University are having today will celebrate the beginning of your professional career. It will be a day you will always remember.”