May 21, 2004

106 students from the Class of 2004 earn medical degrees

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Vanderbilt University School of Medicine members of the Class of 2004 signed a Vanderbilt "V" as they celebrated together before receiving their diplomas during graduation last Friday. This year’s class consisted of 106 members. Photo by Dana Johnson

106 students from the Class of 2004 earn medical degrees

For Vanderbilt’s latest crop of graduating medical students, the dream of becoming a doctor began at different times throughout their lives.

These collective dreams became reality last Friday at a recognition program held in Langford Auditorium when the Class of 2004 became Vanderbilt-educated doctors.

The celebration began with a Commencement ceremony on Alumni Lawn, where Chancellor Gordon Gee told the 3,022 candidates for Vanderbilt University degrees and an estimated 15,000 onlookers that the day “symbolizes the fulfillment of Vanderbilt’s mission.”

During the main ceremony, Mary Hunt Martin was awarded the Medical School’s Founder’s Medal. (See page 5 for story).

The Medical School events then moved to Langford Auditorium, where more than 140 faculty members participated.

In his opening remarks, Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, said that four years ago VUSM “took the brightest class of medical students and promised to help make each one of them a doctor of medicine…I am proud of this — we helped transform these extraordinary young people into thoughtful and compassionate doctors, to scientists with critical and inquisitive minds, into life-long learners, into Vanderbilt doctors.”

Steven G. Gabbe, M.D., dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, spoke further about the transformation the students have gone through, quoting the French novelist Marcell Proust.

“‘We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey that no one can take for us, or spare us,’” he said. “You have completed the journey through medical school and are now about to embark on the next significant phase of your education and personal growth.”

“You have climbed a significant mountain,” he told students. “You sit at its peak. Think about what you’ve learned about yourself during that journey. Think about what you value and what will energize you as you climb higher. I wish you good health and much happiness as you travel on.”

The Class of 2004 chose John L. Tarpley, M.D., professor of Surgery, to read each graduate’s name; Corey M. Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine, to present the hoods; and John S. Sergent, M.D., professor of Medicine, to lead the reading of the oath. Gabbe and Bonnie Miller, M.D., associate dean for Medical Students presented the diplomas.

Jonathon and Melissa Watson’s medical school journey began years ago when they studied together for the MCAT exam. Little did they know that they’d be married when they were awarded their medical degrees.

“I was in the library trying to study [for the MCAT], when he happened to walk by and asked if he could share the table. We started talking and from then on he always seemed to find me in the library, and of course, I always found a place with extra seats. I think we are both lucky that we scored as well as we did on that test, because we didn’t get very much studying accomplished,” Melissa Watson said.

The couple married in June 2000 and came to Vanderbilt. Now they are headed to UCLA for their residencies — Jonathon in Emergency Medicine and Melissa in General Surgery. They see having the same educational experiences as a great benefit in their relationship.

“Equality is a bonus in that we never have to wonder if things are as difficult as the other says they are — we have each experienced what the other is going through,” Jonathon Watson said. And they both felt a bit overwhelmed at graduation, he said. “It’s hard for me to believe I have my medical degree — being a doctor is something that adults do, and I still feel like a kid.”

William David Strayhorn IV was practically born with M.D. after his name. He accepted his diploma from his father, William David Strayhorn III, M.D., and his brother-in-law, P. David Charles, M.D., associate professor of Neurology, but the family medical tradition doesn’t stop there.

“I feel like I have very large shoes to fill, coming from a family with so many outstanding physicians,” Strayhorn said. “But it was great to have my family involved in my graduation ceremony.”

VUSM grants a one-day visiting faculty appointment to a family member with a medical degree, so that they can present their loved one with a diploma.

“It’s a great tradition, and it’s part of what makes Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt — a personal touch,” Strayhorn said.

In contrast, Trina Dorrah is the first doctor in her family.

“I’ve been telling my family that [I would] become a doctor since age seven,” she said. Dorrah is planning to celebrate with a cruise to the Caribbean, but she’s celebrating more than just her medical degree. Dorrah also got married May 15.

For Whitney Kalin, the excitement didn’t end with receiving her medical degree either — she had one more ceremony to go. Kalin was re-commissioned into the Army, and her uncle and father pinned on her captain’s bars that afternoon. She starts life as an active duty Army captain on June 3, when she leaves for Honolulu to serve her pediatric residency at Tripler Army Medical Center.

Andrew Zwyghuizen was the last student to make the momentous walk across the stage of Langford Auditorium, to don a colorful hood, and to take hold of that important certificate saying he is officially a doctor.

The moment was further intensified by its historical significance. Zwyghuizen was the last student to graduate from the Class of 2004, the last class accepted by former chairman of the admissions committee John N. Lukens, M.D. The class was also the last to be given their white coats by former Medical School dean John Chapman, M.D.