Campus News

Leaders on Health Care’s Front Lines to Deliver Keck School Commencement Remarks

Keck School of Medicine’s Class of 2023 will hear from innovators driving change from the classroom to the clinic, from the lab to public policy

Jeremy Deutchman April 20, 2023
photos of L-R: Barbara Ferrer, PhD, Peter Kraft, PhD, Elizabeth Peña, PhD, Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, PA-C, Kimberly Manning, MD.
L-R: Barbara Ferrer, PhD, Peter Kraft, PhD, Elizabeth Peña, PhD, Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, PA-C, Kimberly Manning, MD.

The end of another academic year is rapidly approaching, with graduating students across the Keck School of Medicine of USC busily making plans for what comes next in their personal or professional journeys. But before setting out on their new paths, they will first gather together for reflection and celebration at one of five campus commencement ceremonies being held on May 12 and 13, 2023.

Kicking off the two days of festivities will be the ceremony for the Physician Assistant (PA) program on May 12. Graduates are emerging onto a promising job landscape, ripe with opportunities. Providing insight into how best to navigate this landscape will be commencement keynote speaker Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, PA-C, president of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. A certified physician assistant for over 30 years, Dr. Morton-Rias is a trailblazer in advancing PA-related advocacy, community outreach and professional leadership.

Later that afternoon, Keck School of Medicine’s undergraduates will hear from Barbara Ferrer, PhD, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. A nationally recognized public health leader, Dr. Ferrer oversees a $1.8 billion budget focused on preventing disease and promoting heath equity and well-being among more than 10 million county residents. Dr. Ferrer’s remarks will be the cornerstone of the undergraduate commencement ceremony, which will recognize the achievements of students who have excelled in the Health Promotion and Global Health program.

The following day, graduate students receiving diplomas from the Keck School’s master’s degree programs, doctoral program and program in nurse anesthesia will glean insights from Peter Kraft, PhD, a graduate of the Keck School, former Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and current Director of the Transdivisional Research Program in the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. Dr. Kraft has developed statistical methods that enable clearer understanding of the joint contribution of genetic variation and environmental exposure (i.e., “nature and nurture”) to the risk of cancer and other diseases.

A separate ceremony for students in the Keck School’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology Program will feature remarks from Elizabeth Peña, PhD, associate dean of faculty development and diversity at the University of California, Irvine School of Education. Dr. Peña’s expertise in bilingualism, language impairment, language development and assessment bias and measurement will offer Speech-Language Pathology graduates wisdom on applying their newfound skills in a clinical environment.

At the Keck School’s MD commencement – also taking place on May 13 – graduates will have a chance to learn from keynote speaker Kimberly Manning, MD, nationally recognized for her teaching and mentorship. Dr. Manning, a Southern California native, is a general internist/hospitalist who currently serves as associate vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Department of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. She performs her clinical work at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta’s safety net facility.

For more commencement information, please visit