Bright blue skies and a gentle breeze greeted students and families Friday morning on Shellenberger Field as the University of Lynchburg celebrated Commencement for its Doctor of Medical Science candidates.
In all, 299 degrees were conferred between the classes of 2020 and 2021, and 33 students from the Class of 2022 were allowed to walk in anticipation of their January graduation.
Dr. Jeremy Welsh, dean of the School of PA Medicine and senior associate dean of the College of Health Sciences, gave the keynote address.
Recalling the tumultuous past year and his recruitment to the University’s COVID-19 Task Force, Welsh praised the graduates for their courageous response to the pandemic.
“You were there and you stepped in. You were part of the solution, and each of you sacrificed in numerous ways, giving beyond what you thought you could ever give, and in many cases being that invisible provider,” he said.
“‘Thank you to all the doctors and nurses’ was plastered all over the media during some of the hardest days. I know that every day you don’t get up to be recognized and for the accolades. You do it because it’s your calling and you care for those you serve. You stepped up as a profession and please, let me thank you for doing it.”
To turn the sports term “large L” that he’d often heard used about the year 2020 into a positive, Welsh said he came up with a few of his own “large Ls” instead. He advised the new graduates to listen, learn, and lead, as well as leave “each and everything you touch just a little better than you found it.”
Welsh went on to rebut some of the negative voices that “don’t think the doctorate is worth it,” explaining why the DMSc is a great resource and add-on for PAs.
“It is a tool that we use with surgical precision to bring about change,” he said. “You are powerful and your reach goes beyond the bedside. It reaches to the boardroom, to the C-suite, and to people with influence and that are able to implement change. … You have listened, and you have learned. Now it’s time to lead. … Being in health care, you are a force multiplier.”
Later that day, it was time for the graduate Class of 2021.
A total of 522 graduate degrees were awarded on Friday, with eight in the Doctor of Education in Leadership Studies program, 48 in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, eight in the Master of Arts, 23 in the Master of Business Administration, 55 in the Master of Education, eight in the Master of Health Benefit Design and Health Informatics, 39 in the Master of PA Medicine, 22 in the Master of Public Health, and 12 in the Master of Science in Athletic Training.
Capping her first academic year on campus, this year’s Commencement speaker was President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, who greeted the candidates with a cheerful “Good evening, Hornets! Woohoo!”
Not usually one to dwell on the past, Morrison-Shetlar acknowledged the year’s hardships — and tremendous achievements — before fixing her eyes on the future.
“These are extraordinary times,” she said. “A pandemic that turned our lives upside down, political and racial turmoil that have rocked the very foundation of our republic, and an uncertain economy that makes the thought of entering the world of work daunting, to say the least.”
Through it all, the Class of 2021 has shown “miraculous” courage, Morrison-Shetlar added. “You persevered, you thrived, and today, you graduate,” she said. “This is the first day of the rest of your lives. Live it well and continue to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Morrison-Shetlar went on to talk about lessons she learned during the pandemic and emphasized the three pillars of her administration: servant leadership, diversity, and innovation. She encouraged the graduates to build on these pillars and to keep reimagining their lives and careers.
She also talked about individual 2021 graduates, their triumphs over adversity and achievements, and the seven — and counting — Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championships won this year by Lynchburg’s student-athletes.
Several of them were 2020 graduates who continued their education as graduate students and played another season on Hornet teams.
“So, look around you,” she said. “Behind every one of those masks is a unique story of adaptability, courage, determination, happiness, hope, caring, and leadership. What will your story be? I cannot wait to find out.”