UConn Health Celebrates its 48th Commencement

A view of the Graduate School, School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine commencement ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on May 13, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

On May 13 UConn Health celebrated its 48th commencement ceremony for the 224 graduating students from across UConn School of Dental Medicine, UConn School of Medicine, and its UConn Graduate School programs.

The Class of 2019 includes 92 M.D. and 40 DMD students bringing the total of UConn Health produced physicians to 3,666 and 1,746 dentists since 1972.

Also, the Graduate School awarded 25 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, with 24 in biomedical science (including 2 dual M.D./Ph.D. degrees) and 1 in public health, and 67 master degrees (including 8 dual M.D./MPH degrees) for Master of Public Health, Master of Dental Science, Master of Science in Biomedical Science, and Master of Science in Clinical and Translational Research.

“It is with great pride that I stand before you,” said John A. Elliott, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs for the University of Connecticut, to the graduating Class of 2019. “As healthcare professionals you will be who women and men and their families rely on for their care. Wherever your path takes you, you will represent the University of Connecticut and you will make us proud.”

David Page, center, director of the Whitehead Institute, gives the address during the Graduate School, School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine commencement ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on May 13, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Elliott bestowed a Doctor of Science honoris causa to the commencement speaker David C. Page. He is an MIT professor of biology, director and president of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and a prestigious investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“It means a tremendous amount to me to be recognized with all of you graduates,” said Page in his commencement address. “It is in this shared journey of success we celebrate today that we find its meaning. I’d like to congratulate each and every one of you and each that has traveled with you to this remarkable day.”

Page’s laboratory explores fundamental differences between males and females in health and disease. His lab recently discovered that XY and XX sex chromosomes account for subtle differences in the molecular biology of male and female cells throughout the body. His research breakthroughs have been recognized twice by Science magazine as “Top Ten Scientific Advances of the Year.”

Page added: “Everything that was big and important was once small and in sequential. Your future and futures in medicine, dentistry, and science will arrive in small packages. May your eyes be open. Above all, inspire to trust and be trusted.”

In addition, the UConn Health Board of Directors awarded Dr. Jacqueline S. Nissen its Board of Directors Faculty Recognition Award. UConn has been home to Nissen’s medical education since 1985 when she began medical school and her entire career in medicine.

“I made a decision early in my career to stay in Connecticut, raise a family, and make a difference at UConn Health in one of the most rewarding professions – academic medicine and healthcare. I am thankful to UConn for the last nearly 35 years of exciting cutting-edge education and medicine opportunities and the privilege of training generations of physicians,” said Nissen who serves as professor of medicine, senior associate dean for faculty affairs, and associate dean for graduate medical education at the School of Medicine. She cares for primary care patients at UConn Health while overseeing more than 60 sponsored graduate medical education programs and 670 residents and fellows annually.

Three student speakers also gave inspiring speeches to their fellow classmates.

Woodlyn Joachim gives the graduate school student remartks during the Graduate School, School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine commencement ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on May 13, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“We are now ready for new adventures. We have finally made it,” said Woodlyn Joachim, originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, graduating with a MPH degree. She is of the first generation of college graduates in her family.

She shared with her fellow graduates how nine years ago a devastating earthquake left her and her mother homeless.

“But here I stand to represent the many faces of the UConn Class of 2019,” said Joachim who was just hired into a research position at UConn Health in the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). “It is now our responsibility to step up and help others.”

“A deepest thanks to all who contributed to our success,” said UConn School of Dental Medicine’s Dr. Evan Woodford from Westbrook, Conn. who received his DMD. “We have been given a gift. A gift we must share every day with our patients. Always put our best foot forward for our patients.”

Woodford has grown up with dentistry his whole life as both his parents are dentists and graduates of UConn. “I believe it is one of the most rewarding professions one can pursue. Dentistry allows us the opportunity to immediately change someone’s life for the better,” says Woodford. He will be attending a one-year general practice residency program at Danbury Hospital before pursuing a career in private practice.

“Congratulations. We all have come a long way,” said UConn School of Medicine’s student speaker Dr. Bayan Abunar of Newington, Conn. “It’s for the patients,” shared Abunar who is pursuing medicine to give back to her communities where she grew up. “I will be starting a residency in OB-GYN at the University of Connecticut. I will be among 10 new interns from across the country training under some of the most dedicated and passionate physicians I have had the pleasure to work with.”

Each graduate accepted their degree on stage from their school’s leadership.

This was the first commencement overseen by Dr. Sharon M. Gordon, the new dean of UConn School of Dental Medicine. She couldn’t be prouder of her first graduating dental school Class of 2019. “Commencement is a time of reflection for graduates and faculty alike,” said Gordon. “As a new dean, I can’t help but recall my own experience graduating from dental school, my family’s elation and the anticipation of my residency training — much like most of our graduates today.”

Gordon said: “I wish to convey to each of our graduating dental students that you did it; and you can do more!”

“Commencement is one of the most exciting and gratifying days of the academic year,” said Barbara Kream, Ph.D., associate dean of the UConn Graduate School programs at UConn Health. “I am thrilled to see our graduate students complete their programs after years of hard work and dedication to their coursework and research. I am very grateful for the strong mentorship and support of our faculty in helping our graduates prepare for their future careers.”

Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine, center, and John Elliott, left, shake the hands of just hooded School of Medicine candidates. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Also, Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine shared: “The Class of 2019 has impressive diverse talents. My biggest hope is that they will always keep their empathy in the continued long journey of caring for the ill who are less fortunate.”

Other UConn Health educational leaders also shared their well wishes for Class of 2019.

“The Class of 2019 have a remarkable record of achievement, highlighted by their impressive Match results,” said Dr. David Henderson, associate dean for medical student affairs about the class which had a 99 percent match rate to the residency programs of their choice. In fact, 20 students will remain at UConn Health for their residency. The Class of 2019 represents an important and impressive milestone for the School of Medicine. This class represents the last class to go through the legacy curriculum. Both learners and curriculum evolve over time, and we are all lifelong participants in this evolutionary process. We celebrate their success, and have every confidence in their ongoing achievement of excellence.”

Associate Dean for Medical Education and Assessment Dr. Christine Thatcher shared: “My biggest hope for the Class of 2019 is that they find their passion. I wish them much success and happiness in the future.”

“This class is near and dear to my heart as it is the last class who has completed our legacy curriculum,” said Dr. Ellen Nestler, associate dean for clinical medical education. “I know that they are well prepared for this next journey in their medical training and will surely continue to make us proud.  I hope that they never lose sight of the privilege which the doctor-patient relationship affords them and that they remember that their patients are people, often at their most vulnerable times.”

New doctors and dentists take the Hippocratic Oath during commencement.(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

In the commencement ceremony’s closing remarks Sanford Cloud, Jr., chair of the UConn Health Board of Directors shared: “Dr. Page and Dr. Nissen we congratulate you for your high recognition.”

Cloud added: “To the Class of 2019, I express my congratulations on this day of your graduation. This is a day of great achievement. Go with passion to make the world a better place for not some of us, but all of us. Congratulations, we are all so very proud of you here at the University of Connecticut.”

Commencement ended with the future healthcare leaders and their faculty reciting together the Hippocratic Oath.



Watch the 2019 commencement ceremony video here.