An old proverb says familiarity breeds contempt. For Jay A. Perman, MD, familiarity has brought profound respect and affection for the 1,800 members of the graduating Class of 2016, whom the UMB president saluted as keynote speaker at the University’s commencement ceremony on May 20.
(Watch the ceremony on our Commencement 2016 page.)
“This is usually where I’d introduce the commencement speaker,” Perman said, stepping out from the podium after his initial remarks at Royal Farms Arena. “But there’s no need this time. You’re looking at him.”
Perman went on to say he had a major advantage over all the “usual” celebrity guest speakers at commencement. “I know you,” he said. “I can truly say that you are my students,” Perman added, pointing out that this was probably the first graduating class whose members — in total — arrived during his six years as UMB president.
“I saw many of you for the first time during your orientation, when everything about this University was brand new — before the faculty here today became your mentors, and the classmates beside you became your friends.
“Some of you have spent Tuesday afternoons with me treating young patients in my President’s Clinic. Some of you have come to my home for Sunday brunch with my wife, Andrea, and me.
“I know you.”
And because of that, Perman could thank the graduates for their civility, their leadership, and their service that he has observed firsthand.
“This community is so much better for your being here,” Perman told the graduates after urging them to thank the families, friends, and faculty on hand “who’ve helped you along this journey” with a round of applause.
“I’ve seen you give up your Saturday mornings — when a couple hours sleep would have been welcome — to tutor middle and high school students and show them what a professional career might look like for them.
“I’ve seen you in the community — week in and week out — making sure that our neighbors with HIV are living with the disease, instead of dying from it. You’ve worked to improve oral health care in poor and underserved communities, with a stunning commitment to understanding these populations that need your capable and compassionate care the most.
“You have been advocates, helping unaccompanied children from Central America navigate the immigration system, so they might feel a little less afraid, a little less alone. You’ve helped local schoolchildren tap into their own resilience and change the story that poverty might have written for them.
“You’ve taken our neighbors in your arms — from birth to death — and bent their trajectory toward health and happiness, from organizing active play that bonds infants with their parents, to dancing with neighborhood seniors, who maybe haven’t danced in years.”
Earlier, Gary L. Attman, treasurer of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, had congratulated Perman and the students, saying “UMB represents everything that is best about public higher education.”
Student remarker Alisha Duggal, graduating from the Francis King Carey School of Law, urged her fellow graduates to be strong. "Yes, the thought of this transition might scare you," she said. "But fear not. For we are passionate, persistent, and pioneering individuals willing to take calculated risks" that — thanks to their UMB education — will allow the graduates "to make the rational and informed judgments needed to succeed."
Perman also was joined onstage by honorary marshals Marjorie Fass, MA, of the School of Nursing, and Bruce Stuart, PhD, and David Roffman, PharmD, BCPS-AQ Cardiology, of the School of Pharmacy. (Read more about them and other members of the platform party.)
Two impressive honorary degree recipients added a special touch to the festivities as well.
Wendy R. Sherman, MSW, rose to under secretary of state during a sterling four-decade career in public service and strategic communications since graduating from the School of Social Work at UMB. She started as campaign manager for Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski’s first bid for the U.S. Senate and then worked in the State Department for leaders from Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to Secretaries Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry. She received an Honorary Doctor of Public Service.
Sherman was joined by Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, DFAPA, executive vice president and chief medical officer at biopharmaceutical powerhouse Pfizer. Lewis-Hall had previous leadership positions at Vertex, Pharmacia, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly. Saying she “came [to pharmacy] for the science and stayed for the patients,” Lewis-Hall was appointed by the Obama administration in 2010 to be a founding board member of The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and has helped shape the direction of comparative effectiveness research. She received an Honorary Doctor of Science.
Nursing graduate Rebecca Livingston sang the national anthem and “UMB,” a video from the Hippocratic Notes, an a cappella group out of the School of Medicine, also entertained the crowd.
Perman lauded the graduates with a final salute. “Your example of leadership through service and civility is extraordinary. When the leaders of this city and state talk about the goodwill and good works of the University of Maryland, Baltimore — and they do — they’re talking about you.”
But the future physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, social workers, lawyers, and affiliated health and human services professionals clad in robes before him were not being awarded diplomas without Perman challenging them to do more.
“My final request before you leave UMB is a simple one: Don’t stop what you’re doing,” Perman said. “Because I say this with all sincerity: You are the leaders we need right now.
“And people know it. So they’re going to seek you out. They’re going to ask you to help solve the perilous problems that threaten our best ideals. They’re going to depend on the qualities you’ll bring to the table: confidence leavened by your kindness; knowledge strengthened by your humanity.
“So, amid the joy and chaos of new careers and growing families that will require your attention and love, please say ‘yes’ to your communities, to the people who have neither your education nor your influence. Use your voice and your work for them.”
Visit the commencement website for pictures, video, and more information.