Resilience, persistence, and achievement highlighted at Miller School of Medicine commencement

Madeline A. Cohen delivers remarks during the Miller School of Medicine ceremony on Wednesday, May 12. Photo: Jenny Abreu for the University of Miami
By Richard Westlund

Madeline A. Cohen delivers remarks during the Miller School of Medicine ceremony on Wednesday, May 12. Photo: Jenny Abreu for the University of Miami

Resilience, persistence, and achievement highlighted at Miller School of Medicine commencement

By Richard Westlund
A number of speakers applauded the new graduates, urging them to embrace the challenges ahead and provide exceptional care to future patients.

After four years of challenges from Hurricane Irma to COVID-19 and the scourge of systemic racism, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s class of 2021 celebrated its accomplishments at the May 12 commencement ceremony.

“Congratulations on your adaptability and persistence,” said President Julio Frenk. “Resiliency permeates our culture as much as our orange and green colors and the rich mosaic of backgrounds that add depth to our common bond. I challenge you to practice resilience, overcome the obstacles, and make a positive impact on the lives of others.”

Frenk spoke at a socially distanced outdoor ceremony held at Hard Rock Stadium under cloudy skies and to hundreds of family members and friends who celebrated the event virtually. Many members of the class of 2021 also received graduate degrees in other fields or earned a distinction in research.

“Yours is the first graduation we are able to hold in person since the start of the pandemic,” Frenk said. “For those unable to join us at Hard Rock Stadium today, we hope your virtual participation is nonetheless memorable. No matter the distance between us, nothing can diminish the achievements of our graduates, nor the deep pride we all feel for the many ways our students, faculty, and staff have worked together to arrive at this important milestone.” 

Speaking to the Miller School’s 66th graduating class, Dr. Henri R. Ford, dean and chief academic officer, said, “Your skills, dedication, commitment and compassion are needed more than ever. You have a remarkable opportunity to ameliorate human suffering by providing exceptional medical care, and you are well equipped to become transformative leaders who will shape the future of medicine.”

Special Report: 2021 Commencement

Among the school’s graduates on Wednesday was Dr. Haitao Xu. For him, the dream of becoming a doctor began 11 years ago as a middle school student in Fort Lauderdale. “Then on a high school field trip to the Miller School, I sat in a classroom and heard a resident talk about his career,” said Xu. “It was a transformative moment for me.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida, he enrolled at the Miller School in 2017—just weeks before Hurricane Irma disrupted the campus. “We had to reorganize our schedules, and I took the anatomy and biochem modules at the same time,” said Xu, who also completed the Miller School’s master in genomic medicine program. “Throughout the four years, we were resilient in the face of every adversity, and collaboration became one of the defining characteristics of our class.”

Now, Xu is headed to the University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas for a residency in internal medicine, along with Dr. Shelly Saini, whose residency will be in pediatrics. “It was very special to celebrate commencement with our families, and we feel very fortunate to have a couples match with two such excellent residencies,” said Xu.

A longtime advocate for global health equity, Dr. Lincoln Chen, president emeritus of the China Medical Board, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Science. In a distinguished career that spanned more than five decades, Chen helped spark the child survival revolution, tackled shortages of trained medical professionals, and crafted health care policies to promote quality health care to impoverished communities around the world.

Describing his personal medical journey from Bangladesh, India, and China to Harvard University and leadership of major non-governmental organizations, Chen told the graduates, “Surprises and curveballs will come at you in life. You have to be adaptable and resilient in adjusting to change.”

Chen added that one of the happiest times in his career was making boat trips on Bangladesh’s Meghna River to a rural health clinic, treating malnourished children who had cholera and other diseases. “For me, meaning in my professional work comes from travel and interactions with people in diverse cultures, and I encourage you to take a path based on what gives you the most passion in your professional work. Go out and promote health, save lives, relieve pain, alleviate suffering, and do hard work that is worth doing.”

Hilarie Bass, chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees; Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; grand marshal Dr. Hilit J. Mechaber, senior associate dean for student affairs; and other Miller School educators took part in the in-person ceremony. The Miller School’s musical group, Doctor’s Note, sang the national anthem and the alma mater.

Dr. Madeline A. Cohen was selected by her classmates to give the student address. “Much of the past four years has been uncomfortable,” she said, citing the global pandemic, as well as hurricanes, mass murders, and police brutality. “When we meet our patients at uncomfortable moments in their lives, we need to remember our own experiences and serve as a cool head in a time of stress.”

Cohen will begin a residency in obstetrics-gynecology at Boston Medical Center. She said the new doctors must learn to manage uncertainty in a field that often demands precise answers. “Together, we have built our skill sets, learned how to take care of others, and excel in the moment.”               

Dr. Latha Chandran, executive dean and founding chair of the Department of Medical Education, led the students in the Hippocratic Oath, adapted for the Declaration of Geneva. Dr. Ana I. Gonzalez, president of the University of Miami Medical Alumni Association, welcomed the new graduates.

“I am confident that with the knowledge and skills you learned at the Miller School of Medicine, you will go on to rewarding and fulfilling medical careers,” she said. “This is a rite of passage you will long treasure.”

Concluding the ceremony, Ford encouraged the graduates to remain resilient in overcoming the challenges that lie ahead. “From this day forward, you hold the sacred privilege of caring for your patients. We know you will hold true to that responsibility.”