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Gift creates one home for Medical School class photos

May. 8, 2014, 9:10 AM

Ryan McGrath, left, Mitch Odom and fellow Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students rounded up photos of graduating classes dating back to the 1800s. (photo by Anne Rayner)

For decades, the composite photos of Vanderbilt UniversitySchool of Medicine graduating classes could be found spread all around the Medical Center. Some were framed and hung, while others were stowed in desk drawers or archived in various locations.

That is until now, thanks to the graduating classes of 2014 and 2015, the Vanderbilt Alumni Association and Eskind Biomedical Library’s Historical Collections department.

The team searched far and wide to collect framed photos of each class dating as far back as 1889 — photos that are now on permanent display on the second floor of Light Hall. Future graduating classes will also be included in the exhibit.

The roundup got underway when a team of students and Medical School administrators began meeting in late 2013 to devise a plan to locate the graduating class photos.

Jessi Solomon, vice president of the Class of 2014, likened the project to a scavenger hunt.

“The photos were found in so many areas of the Medical Center,” she said. “We had a few leads from folks and we just followed up on them, oftentimes discovering more information to aid in the search.

“We never thought that we would find all the composites that we did. And along the way, we learned quite a bit about the history of the Medical School.”

According to archives: Vanderbilt University Medical Center began in 1874 when the School of Medicine, which had been part of the University of Nashville since its founding in 1851, was incorporated into Vanderbilt University, which had been founded in 1873 with a grant from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The first degree awarded by this new University, in 1875, went to Henry William Morgan, and was a medical degree.

What has been most fascinating, said Ryan McGrath, president of the Class of 2014, is seeing the history of the school through the photographs.

From left, Bonnie Miller, M.D., Scott Rodgers, M.D., and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student Mitch Odom at the new exhibit of composite photos of graduating classes now on display on the second floor of Light Hall. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“There is such a long tradition at Vanderbilt when it comes to the School of Medicine,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of students are aware or even have a full appreciation of how far the school has come. Through this display, people will be able look back into history, see the advances, the diversity. They will be able to walk through the history of the school.”

Solomon agreed.

“It was really interesting to see the evolution of the school,” she said. “From a small class of all white males, then you began seeing women appear, then people of color. It’s amazing how much history is right here in these composites.

“I hope future doctors will be inspired by the history and the progress of the Medical School,” she added.

Next year’s graduating class was eager to take part in this year’s gift.

“When we were approached with this idea, my class immediately responded,” said Mitch Odom, president of the Class of 2015. “We were happy to get the chance to do something really meaningful for the school and happy to have been able to cooperate with the graduating class for this gift.”

The VUSM students were thankful for the direction and support from Scott Rodgers, M.D., associate dean for Medical Student Affairs, who served as the driving force behind the project.

“Having two classes join together for a class gift is unprecedented in my experience, but it really makes a lot of sense given the scale and importance of this particular project,” Rodgers said. “I have the strong sense that the current third-year students have a close connection with the graduating class, and that connection will certainly strengthen as a result of their cooperation in this magnificent installation.”

The exhibit was unveiled May 8 during Class Day Awards celebrations, where awards are given in recognition of academic achievement and service to the school.

In recent years, graduating classes have presented the school with rocking chairs for the student lounge, the seal on the exterior wall of Light Hall and a digital TV screen to promote student events.

This year it took a team effort to ensure the success of the class gift.

“We enjoy supporting our students and we feel this is a very important project not only for our students but also for our alumni,” said Ann Price, M.D., associate dean for Alumni Affairs. “This will be an incredible, historical exhibit for our Medical School.”

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