May 20, 2020

UAB medical students celebrate 2020 commencement

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screen shot from commencementDue to the ongoing pandemic, this past spring UAB made the decision to cancel all nonessential gatherings and events, including all Commencement ceremonies. That meant the School of Medicine had to find creative ways to celebrate the Class of 2020’s graduation. Fortunately, the Medical Student Services (MSS) office and Medical Alumni Association (MAA) worked together to make the event as memorable and meaningful as possible, even under challenging circumstances.

While they may not have been able to walk together as in a typical commencement ceremony, students still had the traditional graduation regalia. The MAA partnered with MSS to have graduation boxes packaged and delivered to the graduates the week prior to Commencement. Each of the 192 boxes contained a tam and tassel, a doctoral hood, any cords the student earned, photo booth props, Class of 2020 sunglasses, a confetti popper, and letters of congratulations.

On Saturday, May 16, the School of Medicine streamed a virtual Commencement Ceremony online. The ceremony was a combination of pre-recorded remarks and “live” Zoom segments. In his introduction, Associate Dean for Students Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., said, “For this class, the fourth year is ending differently than expected, and although we celebrate separately it is with no less intensity and no less unity. … Please remember, it’s not the past few months that will define your class, it’s the memories you have made and all you have accomplished over the last four years.”

After a welcome by Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean Selwyn Vickers, M.D., FACS, Otis Brawley, M.D., the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, shared a pre-recorded address as the featured speaker. Brawley advised the graduates, “Today you get the title ‘doctor.’ It’s a title of respect, a title of privilege—it’s also a title of responsibility. It’s a responsibility that is very obvious in this, one of the most challenging times in medicine. … Many of us who have been in practice for 10, 20, 30 years will tell you, the education is just starting. And you’re going to learn not just from doctors, you’re going to learn from nurses and med techs and ward clerks and other people in health care.”

Bruce Pittman, president of the fourth-year class, addressed his classmates, and the ceremony continued with the presentation of schoolwide awards. Chase Cox, M.D., received the Hugh J. Dempsey Award, which is given to the student with the highest overall academic achievement over the four-year course of medical school.

Zach Gentry, M.D., and Hussein Abdullatif, M.D., from the Department of Pediatrics, were presented with the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards. Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, these honors are given each year to a graduating student and faculty member in recognition of their value of humanism in the delivery of care to patients and their families.

Barrie Schmitt, M.D., received the Medical Alumni Association Leadership and Community Service Award, which was presented by Medical Alumni Association President John Wheat, M.D.

Then, after each graduate’s name was announced, Kerri Bevis, M.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and last year’s faculty winner of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, led the class in reciting the Hippocratic Oath.

After the class moved their tassels from the right side to the left, Dr. Vickers closed the ceremony with the traditional declaration of degree and best wishes for the Class of 2020. A video of the full ceremony is available to view at

In addition to the school-wide commencement ceremony, each of the four regional campuses (Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Huntsville) hosted an awards ceremony to celebrate campus-specific honors. See the full list of award winners online.