Nearly 400 graduates in caps and gowns walked down the carpeted aisles of the Paramount Theatre in Oakland on May 26 during Samuel Merritt University’s 105th Commencement.
“I am awed by what all of you have accomplished,” University President Sharon Diaz told the graduating students. “If we have accomplished our mission you will be compassionate, you will be respectful, and you will deliver high-quality care…and you will be richly rewarded because at the end of every day you will know you have made a difference.”
Diaz handed diplomas to each of the doctoral, masters and baccalaureate graduates as they walked across the stage to the flash of cameras and audience applause.
"Welcome to the frontlines of healthcare,” Commencement speaker Gary Hall Jr. told the graduates and their families. “It's a total mess out there and we need you to fix it."
Hall, an Olympic swimmer who won multiple medals despite a diabetes diagnosis that threatened to end his athletic career, said healthcare practitioners encounter people at their most vulnerable moments and must demonstrate great care.
“You have the ability to change the world, one patient at a time,” he told the graduates.
Alondra Ammon, a military veteran, was named “Outstanding Occupational Therapy Student” in honor of her commitment to service, strong academic record and professionalism.
"I feel like all of the hard work and time away from family was worth it," Ammon said after the ceremony as she stood outside of the theater holding a bouquet of flowers alongside her husband, two children and other family members. “I hope I can do great things.”
Other Outstanding Student Award winners were:
- Colleen Weeks – Physician Assistant
- Justin LaLonde – Physical Therapy
- Audrey Alvarez – California School of Podiatric Medicine Scepter Award
- Donna Riopelle – Doctor of Nursing Practice
- Osmary Hernandez and Rebecca Lesniak – Master of Science in Nursing – Case Management
- Ewana Cheng and Clark Lomboy – Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner
Daniella Johnson Millspaugh, who earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, said she experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth during her three and a half years of study.
"I'm excited and a little sad,” she said about graduating. “It was an incredible challenge and I'll miss it."
In a student address, Winifred Hwang told her fellow nursing graduates that they have chosen a difficult job, but have now have the skills to succeed.
“Samuel Merritt University has given us the tools to lead effectively…and to think of societal health as a whole,” said Hwang.
The students who participated in the Commencement ceremonies were among a total of nearly 700 SMU graduates in 2017.