The Galen Center roared with cheers and laughter as late-night TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel shared levity, as well as his own family’s personal health struggles, to help send off 192 new doctors at the 134th Keck School of Medicine of USC Commencement.

The sunny Saturday afternoon was spent celebrating the hard-won accomplishment and achievement of the Class of 2019, but also reflecting on the hard work, challenges and adventures still to come.

“I am in awe of what you’ve done. You’ve dedicated yourselves to helping others and making their lives better and healthier and longer, and sometimes saving them altogether,” said Kimmel, who was the ceremony’s commencement speaker. “Every day, you’ll be actively and specifically making this world a better place.”

The ceremony, held May 11 on USC’s University Park Campus, marked the culmination of at least four years of studies for the physicians, who earned medical degrees, as well as combined MD/PhD, MD/MBA and MD/MPH degrees.

In between jokes and congratulations, Kimmel shared how his own family’s recent experiences with the medical profession have affected him deeply.

“Medical care is something we take for granted, but when my son was born with a life-threatening condition, a congenital heart defect, I saw that what you’re doing is miraculous,” Kimmel told the new doctors.

And while he’s grateful to the medical professionals who have allowed his son to live a normal, happy life, Kimmel said the experience had also shown him the great level of need for skilled, compassionate doctors.

“When we were in this situation, I also became aware of the fact that this miracle is withheld and denied to too many Americans by a profoundly unfair system,” Kimmel said.
“Be kind, compassionate, caring and understanding,” he urged. “Handle your fellow humans gently.”

While the medical system is in need of reform, “Make no mistake, you should still make a lot of money while you do it,” he joked. “You deserve it for working so hard and eating so much ramen over these years. And not even the Top Ramen, the bottom ramen.

“For years you’ve worked insanely hard. You’ve sacrificed your social lives and relationships and pulled who knows how many all-nighters,” Kimmel said. “And now you will graduate and move on to your residencies, where you will work insanely hard, sacrifice your social lives and relationships and pull all-nighters. But at least you’ll be getting paid this time.”

Keck School Dean Laura Mosqueda, MD, also urged the new doctors to be tireless advocates for their patients and have the courage to speak up for what is right as she presided over her second commencement as dean.

She outlined four attributes that good physicians must possess.

“The first attribute is curiosity, often paired with its sidekick, humility. The inclination and ability to know what you don’t know, and then ask questions,” she said.

Listening also is a key trait of good doctors, Mosqueda said. “It will serve you not just early in your career, but lifelong.”

“Third, practice compassion with your patients, with your coworkers and yourselves,” she said.

Finally, “Be a good citizen,” Mosqueda advised.

“As physicians, we have front row seats to the health care challenges in our community,” she said. “This medical degree you earned will give you a special status in society. People will listen to you. With that privilege comes the responsibility to learn how to effectively use your voice for good.”

Kimmel solicited advice from the graduates regarding a pain in his back and commended their parents.

“Without your relentless pressure, nagging, guilt tripping and unreasonably high standards, half these kids wouldn’t be here today,” Kimmel quipped. “They’d be opening up a marijuana co-op right now.”

Sona Shah, who served as class co-president, along with Nina Gertsvolf, thanked the countless school staff, family, friends and classmates who made the day possible for the graduates.

“As we embark on the next phase of our training, the physicians that we will be, that we are, have been shaped by our fellow classmates, by the Class of 2019,” she said.

“Our fellow classmates remind us why we chose to pursue medicine,” she said. “I’m incredibly inspired by every one of you, and grateful to have grown with you over the past four years.”

— Story by Brian Day, photos by Steve Cohn

Faculty and administrators watch Jimmy Kimmel as he addresses the Class of 2019.

Graduates wave to family and friends as they process into the Galen Center before the commencement ceremony.

Graduates pose with a giant photograph after the commencement ceremony.

Family and friends join the new physicians in a reception after the commencement ceremony.

Graduates don leis after the commencement ceremony.

A graduate receives congratulatory kisses from his canine companion during a reception following the commencement ceremony.

Graduates jump for joy after the commencement ceremony.

Class of 2019 co-presidents Sona Shah and Nina Gertsvolf take a selfie with commencement speaker Jimmy Kimmel.

Graduates pose during a reception after the commencement ceremony.

New physicians recite the Hippocratic Oath.

New physicians are hooded during the commencement ceremony.