Class of 2023 Ready to Make its Impact on the World
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Class of 2023 Ready to Make its Impact on the World

There’s a slight difference of opinion on how much of an advance heads up Jeffrey Boehme, OD ‘87, got that he was going to place the hood on his son, David Boehme, OD ‘23, at Salus University’s spring commencement May 25, 2023, at the Kimmel Cultural Campus in Philadelphia.

David Boehme and his parentsDad said he didn’t find out until the morning of the ceremony. Son said he brought it up the evening before the ceremony, at least 24 hours in advance. Despite the timing discrepancy, when the moment came, it was special for both father and son.

“I was a little bit nervous,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boehme. “He said, ‘Oh by the way, Dad, you’re supposed to come up onstage and the put hood on me.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ But once I did it, I was so excited and proud. He worked so hard to get to where he’s at. It’s really humbling and the words are hard to find.” The specialness of the moment was not lost on Dr. David Boehme.

“He was able to put my white coat on me and that was a special moment,” said David, who will now join his father’s practice in Pittsburgh. “But to be able to go through the program like he did and then to have him put the hood on me was even more special.”

The keynote speaker for the University’s 126th commencement ceremony was Dr. Ala Stanford, a national leader in health equity, healthcare policy advisor and an advocate for vulnerable populations in the United States. She recently served as regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of the Mid-Atlantic region, appointed by President Joseph Biden. Not only has Dr. Stanford been a practicing physician for more than 20 years, she and her family also are patients at The Eye Institute at Salus.

She offered the graduates four points to consider: (1) You are the glue; (2) Remember your “why”; (3) Acknowledge the bias that’s in our healthcare system; (4) Be kind to yourself.

“As you enter the workforce, remember the valuable lessons you have learned about teamwork, communication, and compassion,” said Dr. Stanford. “You will undoubtedly face new challenges, but with your training and experience, you are equipped to handle them. Remember to take care of yourselves and as you care for others, always strive to make a positive difference in the lives of those you serve. And, remember, it is a privilege to care for others.”

Brandon Garces gets his hood.It was a day filled with excitement and pride for the 292 graduates and their families. Before the ceremony, Brandon Garces, OD ‘23, was hoping he wouldn’t trip walking across the stage to receive his diploma from Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FACHE, FAAO. And, he didn’t.

Tantania Garces, a native of Jamaica, West Indies, now from Queens, New York, was there to see her son graduate. “I could not be more proud,” she said. “He has achieved one of his goals. My oldest child, still growing and hoping to accomplish more and helping others. It brings back every moment, every tear, every struggle we’ve gone through to bring us to this moment.”

The top students from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University were Zachary Sloan, OD ‘23, who had the highest grade point average in the Doctor of Optometry Traditional program. Dr. Sloan, of Dubois, Pennsylvania, will now begin work for O’Bryon Eye Associates in Dubois; and April Guo Dongni Mishley, OD ‘23, who had the highest GPA in the Doctor of Optometry Accelerated Scholars program. Dr. Mishley, from Stow, Massachusetts, will now work in the Providence office of the Rhode Island Eye Institute.

April Mishley delivers addressDr. Mishley delivered the student commencement address at the ceremony and acknowledged the many late nights, determination and discipline the graduates from all programs showed, particularly during the pandemic.

“Be proud of what you have accomplished and overcome the last few years to be sitting here today,” said Dr. Mishley. “Although this marks the end of our formal training at Salus, we will continue to strive to be the best possible professionals, educators, relocation specialists and researchers and that we never stop learning and continue to be innovative.”

Dr. Mittelman challenged the graduates to embrace the opportunities they are presented and to exercise the courage and determination they’ve demonstrated to turn their accomplishments into even more success.

“You’ve been given a great gift, and that’s the crucible of learning,” said Dr. Mittelman. “Now it’s time to transform that into something more useful, something more sustainable — your impact on the world to serve others. I’m certain you will be successful in all of your endeavors.”

Jamie Dorotov and her familyAfter the ceremony, graduates, their families and friends crowded into the lobby of the Kimmel Cultural Campus for lots of hugs and photos. Jamie Dorotov, MS ‘23, in the Speech-Langauge Pathology program, was gathered with her parents, grandparents and sisters.

“I was pretty nervous before the ceremony, but during the ceremony, all the moments came together all at once,” said Dorotov, who will now work in a pediatric private practice. “It was all worth it.”

Her grandmother, Lilya Bilentko, originally from Ukraine and now living in Philadelphia, was thrilled with her granddaughter’s accomplishment. “She’s hard-working and she’s very good,” said Bilentko. “And, she’s amazing.”

Lisa Amaquandoh and her father John.Holding a large bouquet of flowers, Lisa Amaquandoh, MS ‘23, in Occupational Therapy, hugged family, friends and her beaming father, John Amaquandoh.  “I’m so proud of myself. I’m super-excited,” she said.

Also graduating with the Class of 2023 were students who participated in the 2021 filming of a segment on Salus University of The College Tour, a television series featuring individual episodes on colleges and universities across the country that streamed on Amazon Prime and Roku. Those students included Zachary LaBarth, AuD ‘23; Ashka Patel, OD ‘23; Sonja Makitan, OD ‘23; and Tavii Burrell, MSOT ‘21, OTD ‘23.