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Graduation Celebrates the Diversity and Promise of the UCSF School of Medicine Class of 2023

 |  By Paul Brandfonbrener
UCSF School of Medicine Graduating Class of 2023
The UCSF School of Medicine Graduating Class of 2023

On May 22, 2023, the UCSF School of Medicine graduating class of 2023 was joined by family, friends, and the UCSF community in a night of celebration at Davies Symphony Hall. In front of a full house brimming with joy and energy, the ceremony honored the exemplary determination, talent, diversity, and promise of the 189 graduates.

The graduating class was greeted by a standing ovation from their loved ones while School of Medicine Dean Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD, walked to the podium. Dean King began the ceremony by acknowledging the inflection point at which the graduates found themselves: “Commencement is both an end and a beginning—the end of the first phase of your formal education as a medical student and the beginning of the first phase of your education as a physician.”

Dean Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD
UCSF School of Medicine Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD, addresses the audience at the 2023 UCSF School of Medicine Commencement Ceremony

Dean King went on to honor the diverse backgrounds of the graduating class, saying, “Fifteen percent of the class represents the first generation of their families to attend college” and “Thirty-four percent of the class belongs to racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession.” He described how “this diverse class reflects our institution’s growth, inclusivity, and global impact, highlighting the transformative power of education in shaping the future of medicine.”

Dean King went on to recognize specific cohorts of students, including the graduates of the Medical Scientist Training  Program, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Program, UCSF-UC Berkeley Joint Medical Program, PRIME-US, and the inaugural San Joaquin Valley (SJV) PRIME cohort. He praised the SJV PRIME graduates for leading the way and dedicating their careers, “to caring for those living in our underserved communities and advocating for policies that ensure everyone has access to quality health care.”

Class representative Billy Nguyen introduced the commencement speaker, William Flanary, MD, also known as Dr. Glaucomflecken, the satirical social media ophthalmologist whose videos have reached an audience of over 3 million people. Dr. Flanary began by congratulating not only the graduates, but also their families and friends, quipping, “because now all of you know a doctor you can call at any time for free medical advice.”

Dr. Flanary was able to both impart wisdom to the graduating class while still featuring his comedic wit throughout his speech. He structured his speech around ten pieces of advice he wanted to leave with the graduates. These ranged from his famous ophthalmologist humor, telling the graduates: “Don’t sleep in your contacts”, to discussing his experience of suffering a cardiac arrest in 2020. He shared that his wife’s ten minutes of CPR saved his life and implored the graduates to teach CPR to those around them. He jokingly offering to start his own CPR course during commencement, saying, “The time to learn CPR is now, so everybody grab a partner.” He ended his speech by urging the graduates to enjoy the journey of medical education: “It’s a long road, so have a little fun along the way. Just not so much fun that you forget to take out your contacts.”

The student speaker, Morgan Nelson-Day, was then invited on stage and gave a moving speech which encapsulated the variety of paths that her classmates have taken to get to this point in their medical training. She spoke of all that she has learned about medicine and life throughout medical school. “The most important truth I learned in medical school is that when we, as people in healthcare, have done every possible thing to help a fellow human being and there is no preventing their suffering or death, then we can still stand by them and be a witness to their life. It was then that this quote made so much sense to me: ‘We are all just walking each other home.’” She concluded her speech by looking ahead to the next step for her class: residency. She acknowledged the uncertainty ahead, leaving the graduates by saying “The best advice I ever got was this: just keep swimming.”

UCSF School of Medicine Graduate Ernest Ekunseitan at the 2023 Commencement Ceremony
Graduate Ernest Ekunseitan and his parents on stage during the hooding ceremony

A highlight of the evening was the hooding ceremony, during which each graduate’s loved ones come on stage to place the ceremonial green hood around their graduate. Families were beaming with pride, with cheers erupting each time a new name was announced and some loved ones even wearing pins with pictures of their graduate on it. The graduates and their loved ones smiled ear to ear as they posed on stage for their first picture together with a new doctor in the family.

Another highlight of the event was when Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, invited graduates on stage to recite the first line of the UCSF Physician Declaration in 17 languages (other than English), to celebrate the diverse backgrounds and cultural richness of the graduating class. The line reads, “As a physician, I solemnly promise that I will serve humanity – caring for the sick, promoting good health, and alleviating pain and suffering.”

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Catherine Lucey, MD, was then introduced and invited to lead the graduating class, faculty, and all physicians present in the recitation of the UCSF Physician Declaration. It was truly an inspiring moment hearing this new class of doctors recite the same words they had spoken together when they first put their white coats on during the White Coat Ceremony during their first year at UCSF. Dr. Lucey had the graduates repeat a particularly important line from the declaration: “I will not permit considerations of gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality, or social standing to influence my duty of care.”

Dean King closed the ceremony by saying, “Wherever you are headed next, I want to thank you for what you leave behind: your dedication to improving our culture, with a keen focus on the importance of diversity, equity, and anti-oppression, and your insistence that as healers, we must always stand up for the rights of our patients and do what is right, even when it is hard. We are very proud of all of you.” 

UCSF School of Medicine Commencement Ceremony

Watch the full commencement ceremony: