Hundreds of graduates received hoods, cheers and health science degrees today at Samuel Merritt University’s 106th Commencement at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.
“I am awed by all that you, and the many graduates before you, have accomplished,” SMU President Sharon Diaz said. “If we have accomplished our mission, you will be compassionate, you will be respectful of difference, and you will provide high-quality care.”
Diaz noted that this year’s Commencement will be her last. She is retiring later this year after 36 years of serving as the University’s first president, but offered a last piece of advice for this year’s graduates.
“Take a moment at the end of each day to realize that you have made a difference,” she said. “Nothing is more rewarding.”
The morning ceremony celebrated Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Master Occupational Therapy and Master Physician Assistant program graduates.
“You and the people around you will bring change to this world one day at a time,” said Occupational Therapy graduate Cindy Beas, the student speaker at the morning ceremony. “As Walt Disney said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ and we did it. Congratulations Class of 2018.”
At the afternoon ceremony — which honored Doctor of Nursing Practice, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and Master of Science in Nursing program graduates — student speaker Tony Mendez spoke of how his life and those of his fellow graduates have been profoundly changed by their SMU education.
“Samuel Merritt University, both by the nature of its programs and the values that it teaches, encouraged and supported us to be the change we want to see in the world,” said Mendez, who earned a master’s degree to become a family nurse practitioner.
“As all of us enter the health field, we are walking into an unprecedented number of critical issues facing this nation’s health,” he said, noting challenges that include the opioid epidemic, untreated mental illness, and a large number of uninsured patients.
This year’s Commencement speaker was Naomi Fuchs, CEO of Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, who encouraged the graduates to continually reflect on their experiences that led them to choose a career of service.
“This will keep your heart open and your compassion genuine,” she said.
Fuchs also said paying close attention to the unique story of each patient’s life will help SMU graduates become more effective healers.
“Far too many people in our community feel marginalized and hopeless and don’t believe they deserve to be treated with dignity,” she said.
“Remember that health is not fixing a body part or an illness, but supporting a whole person with a rich, complex history, and that health equity is essential to a just and civil society,” said Fuchs.