Photo by: Steve Cohn

Friends and family of the 132nd class to graduate as doctors of medicine from the Keck School of Medicine of USC gathered at the Galen Center on USC’s University Park Campus on May 13 to offer their congratulations and cheer on their loved ones.


After greeting and congratulating the class, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, dean of the Keck School and director of the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, opened his remarks with a quote from “The Summer Day,” by poet Mary Oliver.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life?” he asked the assembled class. “We look forward to how you will contribute to the practice of medicine, to curing disease, to educating the next generation of physicians who will now follow you, and to improving the health and well-being of people around the world. I know that this is a tall order, but I also know that you are prepared for this journey.”

He also cautioned the class not to get too caught up in the technological and scientific advances that will occur during their careers.

“As important as it is to have innovation and technology, I hope that throughout your careers, another word will be as important to you and will guide you, and that word is ‘compassion’,” Varma said.

Erica Patel, president of the Class of 2017, offered the student address and enjoined her classmates to view their future patients as partners in healing, rather than the subjects.

“We should all strive to see our patients as people first, and diseases second,” she said.

Leonard Schaeffer, Judge Robert Maclay Widney Chair at USC and founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint, offered the commencement address.

Schaeffer noted that the costs of health care in the United States dwarfed those in other developed countries, and expressed his hope that the doctors of the Class of 2017 would take responsibility over the course of their careers for doing their share to help keep costs down as thought leaders both in science and in organizational efficiencies.

In addition to the degrees conferred upon the medical students, the ceremony served as an occasion to honor several faculty members.

Mikel Snow, MD, professor of cell and neurobiology (educational scholar), Lt. Col. Earle and Patricia M. Smith Professorship in Neurogenetic Research, and beloved instructor, was presented with the Kaiser Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award for basic science; Jeffrey Canceko, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine (clinician educator) and clerkship director, was presented with the Kaiser Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award for clinical science; and Jaclyn Vargas, MD, who earned her degree at the Keck School as part of the Class of 2015, was selected by the students to receive the Outstanding Resident Physician Teaching Award.

In recognition of their decades of commitment to improving health care and generosity to the Keck School, Barbara and Malcolm Currie were awarded the Elaine Stevely Hoffman Award.

Additional honorees included Stephanie Zia, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine (clinician educator) and assistant dean for career advising, who was the recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation; Althea Alexander, instructor of clinical medical education and assistant dean for student diversity, who received the Distinguished Faculty Award; and Lydia Lam, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery and director of the medical student mentoring program, who was awarded the Etz Chaim — Tree of Life Award of Compassionate Care.

At the close of the ceremony, Grand Marshal Henri Ford, MD, MHA, professor of surgery and vice dean for medical education, led the graduates in the Hippocratic Oath.

By Leigh Bailey