Sunny skies and a fresh breeze greeted families on Friday as the University of Lynchburg celebrated 430 master’s and doctoral candidates. The Doctor of Medical Science and PA Medicine commencement and hooding ceremony kicked things off at 9 a.m. on Shellenberger Field. The event honored 257 DMSc and 38 PA Medicine students.
A total of 46 candidates were celebrated at 2 p.m. in Turner Gymnasium in the Doctor of Physical Therapy commencement and hooding ceremony, and 89 at 7 p.m. in the master’s programs ceremony, also held in Turner.
Dr. Bernard Toney ’20 DMSc, associate investigator at the National Institutes of Health and adjunct professor of global health in Lynchburg’s Doctor of Medical Science program, addressed the DMSc and PA Medicine graduates.
Toney, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2022 after three combat tours in Afghanistan and has served as a White House medical officer for two presidential administrations, reminded the graduates of how special they are.
“You are the 2%,” he said. “To whom much is given, much is expected. … Only 2% of practicing PAs have obtained the level of education that you have achieved. Two percent. Let that sink in.”
Toney then spoke about the importance of failure, perseverance, and purpose.
“Because you will embark upon new endeavors, [that] means that failure is inevitable,” he said. After failing PE in high school, Toney “went on to fail my first college class, my first attempt at learning Russian in the army, [and] my first physical fitness test.”
In PA school, he didn’t excel until he failed his first biochemistry test. “Michael Jordan once said … ‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’”
Toney praised his fellow PAs for persevering during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also stressed the value of finding a purpose in their profession.
Before getting his life together, Toney, 17 at the time, had collected “a long list of failures.” He was “going nowhere fast” in Atlanta, he told the graduates. The tragic shooting death of a friend, who died in Toney’s arms, made him want to change his life and save the lives of others.
“I found my purpose,” Toney concluded. “As I stand here before you today, my purpose, as directed by God, continues to change and expand in impact.”
Watch a video of the DMSc and PA Medicine ceremony here.
The DPT ceremony featured keynote speaker Kyle Kirby ’23 DPT, who came to Lynchburg after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020. The Richmond native will start his career as a physical therapist in June.
Perseverance was a prominent theme for Kirby, too, who spoke about the hard work it took for his class — the “COVID Cohort” — to make it to graduation. He quoted bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman, who said, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift any heavy weight.”
Kirby added that “PT school is pretty similar. … Not only did you have to have the best grades, complete shadowing hours, and score high on the GRE, but you also had to be accepted into a program that typically takes 30-50 students per year, depending on the school. We are the ones who made it.”
He recalled challenging clinical rotations amid COVID-19 restrictions and a patient he treated who miraculously walked again after a serious injury. “This is the patient who I think of when I stop believing in myself,” Kirby said.
In closing, he gave another shoutout to his classmates. “I’m going to greatly miss the Class of 2023 and all of the fun time we had throughout physical therapy school,” Kirby said, fighting back tears. “Many of us feel like family now and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”
Watch a video of the DPT ceremony here.
Belief in oneself also was a sentiment echoed by Bill Bodine ’78, ’89 MAd, who addressed candidates at the master’s programs ceremony that evening.
“I’d like to think that I’m a good representative of what can happen when a person who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life chooses a small liberal arts college,” said Bodine, who as an undergrad served as captain of the track, indoor track, and cross-country teams, sang in the Concert Choir, and was active in theater.
His professors and coaches, he said, guided him through college and encouraged him to “try new things.”
Bodine proceeded to offer three “major keys to success and fulfillment in life.”
The first, he said, is imagination: “Einstein said that ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’
“The real value in this education process comes if we have learned not what to think, but how to think,” Bodine added. “This is the true value of a liberal arts education. … You have the gift of education and it must not be taken lightly.”
The second key, he said, is “to believe in yourself to the point where you’re not afraid to take chances and follow your passion.
“I had an inner desire to help people and to effect change in my community. When I was 60 years old, I made the decision to follow that passion,” Bodine said, referring to his move from a long career in health care management to serving as president of the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation until 2022.
While he joked that, if possible, one shouldn’t wait until age 60, it’s important to “hit the pause button once in a while and think about how you can pursue your dreams and passions — preferably while helping your fellow man, be it financially, with your time, or with simple acts of kindness.”
Finally, Bodine said, “Everything you do in your life from here on out is about relationships. … The world is a daunting place and it’s full of hardships and challenges. All we have is each other. One of the few things in life we have control over is how we treat each other.”
Watch a video of the master’s programs ceremony here.