May 21, 1999

Commencement takes on reunion feel

Commencement takes on reunion feel


At last week's graduation, four-month-old Scott Penner was a handful for both Dean John Chapman and the boy's father, graduating medical student Erik Penner. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)


Dr. Harry Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, at last week's commencement ceremony. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)


Alumni Lawn was a sea of smiles at commencement. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

Last week's graduation was pretty much like any of the other 24 graduations overseen by Dr. John E. Chapman, Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He spoke. He awarded diplomas. He shook hands.

But this year served as a reunion of sorts for Chapman, who graduated four "grand grads," the sons of four physicians he awarded diplomas to from 1968 to 1972. The fathers, Drs. Edwin L. Grogan II, MD'71, Gary E. Penner, MD'72, Robert A. Sewell, MD'68, and Ronald B. Workman, MD'69, joined their former Dean on stage, separately, to award the diplomas to their sons, Eric Grogan, Erik Penner, Nathan Sewell and Ronald Workman Jr.

When the ceremony ended, the Dean had awarded diplomas to 3,208 VUSM graduates – approximately 65 percent of the medical school's living graduates.

"The Dean is the man most responsible for the character and quality of the medical education our graduates receive, said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs during his Program of Recognition speech. "He has been doing this since 1975 and there is no other dean with that tenure. He is truly the dean of deans of American medicine."

Joining the four grand grads were 92 other graduates and two recipients of a Masters of Public Health degree. Michael Alan Proffitt was awarded the School of Medicine's Founders Medal.

The recognition program follows commencement each year to individually recognize each medical school graduate. For 20 of the graduates this year, the event was a family affair.

Andrea Cherrington and Michael Mugavero, newlyweds, were presented their degrees by Cherrington's father, Dr. Alan D. Cherrington, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Douglas Emch received his degree from his father, Willard Sr., and brother, Willard Jr., a 1994 graduate of VUSM. Dmitry Paul Nemirovsky received his diploma from his grandmother, an obstetrician/gynecologist.

Also sharing the day with a family physician was Rich Archuleta whose foster father and mother, Dr. James and Renee Masterson, and wife, Wendy, attended the ceremony. Archuleta was placed in their care at the age of 12 when his mother died. Although the couple never formally adopted him, they became his permanent family.

Archuleta, a Canby Robinson Scholar, said he has always been interested in science, but was inspired to become a physician because of the kind and gentle ways of his father.

"There is no man I ever respected more than him," Archuleta said. "Never once when he was called at home did I hear him complain. He's the most decent man I've ever met."

One family member who was not there to see his son graduate was Dr. Thomas E. Brittingham, a former VUSM faculty member who influenced students with his innovative teaching methods for 17 years. Brittingham died in 1986.

His son, Tom, received his diploma and will begin an internal medicine residency at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. It's a complete change of career for the 41-year-old Brittingham who was an electrical engineer for 12 years, the last five of which at Saturn Automotive Industries.

"I realized I was getting older and I just got tired of working with machines instead of people," Brittingham said. "I was certainly influenced by watching Dad and seeing how happy practicing medicine made him. Taking care of patients and teaching was the joy of his life."

Brittingham said he believes his father would have tried to talk him out of changing professions.

"I was actually a pretty good engineer," he said. "He would have thought 'why throw it away and be a beginner at something else?' But now that I've gotten through it and I didn't flunk out, he probably would have been pretty proud of me."

There was also sadness among the class, who like all VUSM classes, has become a family over the past four years.

"I'm excited about the future but it's really hard to think about leaving Nashville and Vanderbilt," said Angie Peck, who will serve a residency in pediatrics in Seattle and hopes to eventually focus on international medicine. "There's a community of people here who care about us and that makes it very sad to leave."