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University of Colorado School of Medicine 2021 Graduation | Aurora, CO

CU School of Medicine Holds Commencement for the Class of 2021

Speakers celebrated the 184 graduates and addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, the turbulent political and social climate, and overcoming imposter syndrome.

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The University of Colorado School of Medicine Hooding & Oath Ceremony took place Friday, May 28, 2021, at 9 a.m. Due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions, the in-person ceremony was limited to the 184 members of the class of 2021, their personal CU School of Medicine faculty hooders, and up to two vaccinated guests each. The event was also livestreamed for friends and family members unable to attend in person.  

But the limitations didn’t dampen the excitement as the graduates gathered on the sunny lawn of Boettcher Commons on the Anschutz Medical Campus.  

The ceremony and convocation highlighted the class of 2021 and their many accomplishments. Associate Dean of Student Life Brian Dwinnell, MD, FACP, opened the ceremony by welcoming the assembled guests and addressing the unique circumstances.  

“To say it’s a great feeling to welcome you in person is a huge understatement,” Dwinnell said. “While we know this is still not your entirely typical graduation ceremony, we are ecstatic to be here.”  

SOM Graduation Dwinnell

Dwinnell went on to recognize the myriad ways in which the graduates rose to the challenge of completing medical school during a global pandemic.  

“Throughout this crisis, the class of 2021 responded with a sense of altruism, reaching out to each other and so many in the community to offer a helping hand. The tenacity you have demonstrated will serve you well in both your personal and professional lives and will continue as inspiration for this campus for years to come,” he said.   

“Medicine is in good hands.” 

Class speaker Zainab Zullali began her speech by welcoming “the best medical school class of all time.”  

“I can say for a fact that whatever wisdom and growth I have achieved from these last four years have been from and alongside you,” she said.  

The daughter of Afghan immigrants, Zullali said she was “keenly aware of the privilege of a safe and robust education,” and she extended a special congratulations to all the of the first-generation graduates in the crowd.  

SOM Graduation Class Speaker Zainab Zullali

“We’ve faced moments that have stretched our resiliency to its limits, and I know we will face plenty more as we think about the enormity of the struggles ahead,” Zullali said to the assembly. “But when I look at you all, I know that medicine is in good hands.”      

Zullali ended her speech with an appeal to her fellow graduates: “Do not turn away from suffering. Look at it, hear it, become familiar with it. Feel it. Vow to alleviate it with your hands, with your words, with your heart. Making ourselves open to the suffering of patients will make us stronger, will make us better advocates, will make us good humans, and will make us better doctors.” 

“Drown out the imposter syndrome voice.” 

The event also featured remarks from guest speaker Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, FAAP, professor of medicine and associate vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Emory University’s Department of Medicine. Manning’s speech — or, rather, poem — encouraged the class 2021 to face and overcome imposter syndrome, an issue she struggled with during her early career.  

“Anything you’re feeling, I’ve likely felt the same, 

But I see the light inside of you and I’m here to fan your flames. 

So, I hope you’ll let my voice linger in your ear, 

To drown out the imposter syndrome voice. 

So, hear me loud and clear, 

You aren’t the one they think you are or something basic, nope, 

But who you are is something that’s a thousand times more dope. 

A thousand times more capable, a thousand times more true, 

A thousand times more needed, a thousand times more you. 

Just focus on the human beings. Don’t worry, you’ve got this.” 

SOM Graduation Guest Speaker Kimberly Manning

Manning concluded by reminding the grads to embrace their “beautiful diversity.”  

“For our patients, our diversity is imperative. When we show up as ourselves, we redefine the narrative of what a doctor looks like, who gets welcomed in, who will fight to save their lives, and, yes, who gets to win,” she said. 

“A long strange trip” 

Before the hooding ceremony, John J. Reilly Jr., MD, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, took the podium. He recognized the class of 1971, who graduated 50 years ago, as well as the School of Medicine’s retiring faculty, before addressing the class of 2021.  

He began his remarks with a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” 

“I hope we are in the spring of hope now,” Reilly said, referring to the difficulties of the past year.  

SOM Graduation Dean Reilly

He followed that with “a more modern quote” from the Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.” 

Reilly noted that the graduates attended medical school at a remarkable time not just for themselves, but for the world, and he thanked them for the altruism and resilience they displayed “during a time of extraordinary stress.” 

He went on to say that the pandemic has shined a light on the dramatic health disparities in our society, and that it is up to us as a society and to the graduates as physicians to help address those issues.   

“Throughout your careers, I hope you never forget the importance of putting the patient at the center of your decision-making, treating all with empathy and respect, and never forget our collective obligation to care for all of the members of our society,” he said. 

Reilly ended with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

“I look at the opportunities you have, and I’m a little jealous at what you’re going to be able to accomplish. I think you will be able to have an enormous impact,” he said. “It’s one of the most exciting eras ever in medicine.”  

SOM Graduation Congrats Sign

To conclude the ceremony, Shanta Zimmer, MD, senior associate dean for education and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, invited the class of 2021 graduates, as well as all physicians in the audience and at home, to stand and participate in the treasured tradition of reciting the Colorado Physician’s Oath.