Joy. Relief. Gratefulness. Accomplishment. Normalcy.
These were some of the feelings expressed by graduates of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), who overcame the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to complete their studies and earn their degrees during a commencement ceremony May 19 that featured a keynote speech from Anthony Fauci, MD.
The graduates, many of whom had to pivot to virtual learning in 2020 because of the pandemic, were attending the first in-person Universitywide commencement in three years.
“I feel a sense of relief because it’s an accomplishment that I’ve made it this far, and I’ve worked very hard. But I also feel ready,” said Rachael Morrissey, JD, who will go on to clerk for a judge in Maryland. “I feel ready to get out there and do what I’ve been trained and taught and have studied to do.”
Tsedeke Ketema, PharmD, an immigrant from Ethiopia who has been in the United States for 11 years, was grateful for the support he found at UMB.
“This nation has helped me, as have so many families, so many friends, so many faculty members,” said Ketema, who took part in the University’s efforts to vaccinate the community against COVID-19.
Of course, many of the graduates’ thoughts turned to the pandemic.
“I started in 2019 and made it three-quarters of the way through the semester. Then the pandemic started, and we all had to go online,” Morrissey said. “The pandemic has been hard. It’s really meaningful to be here in person today because we’ve been through a lot as a community.”
Kathy Thang, DNP, agreed.
“I feel like it’s normal again. We’re finally back to how it used to be,” she said. “It’s refreshing and exciting.”
Collin Muhler, DDS, said he had been concerned that the Class of 2022 wouldn’t be able to have an in-person ceremony.
“It’s been a long road,” said Muhler, who will be joining his father’s dental practice in Timonium. “I’m glad that we’re actually here. It feels normal for once.”
Jennifer Drechsler, MD, appreciated having the graduates of UMB’s six professional schools and the Graduate School together in one ceremony.
“It was nice to have this interprofessional graduation. It’s just nice to see all of the different departments get together,” she said. “That was really inspirational for me.”
The students were excited to hear Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president who earned a reputation as “America’s Doctor” during the pandemic because of his calm advice to the public. Fauci urged the graduates to be perpetual students, work to eliminate the country’s health inequities that came to the forefront during the pandemic, and serve their communities.
“I thought it was incredible,” Josephine Hoepker, MS, said of his speech. “I think the most important thing is to always be a service to your community and to help out as much as you can. So that really stuck with me: Always be there for the community.”
Drechsler also appreciated Fauci’s advice.
“He talked about how we’re always continual learners, and that really spoke to me as a student in medicine. It’s my responsibility to keep learning new and innovative technologies, diagnoses, treatment plans, and to continue growing,” Drechsler said. “His speech gave a lot of good advice to us for our future.”
Ultimately, the day was one of celebration and reflection for the graduates and their families.
“It’s overwhelming because I haven’t taken a moment to stop and reflect on everything,” Morrissey said. “So that’s what today is about.”