‘Humanity of healthcare’: 265 graduate at Baylor College of Medicine commencement

As graduates, faculty and families took their seats for the 2022 commencement, Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor College of Medicine, told the students to stand back up, turn around, face their families and give them a roaring round of applause.

“Your support was vital in helping them reach this day, particularly over the last two years,” Klotman said. “I know the graduates join me in thanking you for all you have done for them, and we are glad to have you here tonight.”

Tuesday’s event, held at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston, was Baylor’s first in-person commencement ceremony with family and friends since 2019.

As he peered at the 265 students waiting to receive their diplomas, Klotman made sure to acknowledge the strength and resilience of the 2022 graduating class. He defined Baylor graduates as having great intellect, compassion and vision for making a difference in a harsh world.

“Since March 2020, all of you have been a part of a healthcare crisis that no one could have imagined,” he said. “By training in these challenging times, you have had the opportunity to understand the importance of both science and medicine, and you see the impact that academic medicine and public health have on a community in crisis.”

The School of Medicine graduated 170 graduates, while 86 graduates received diplomas from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and nine graduated from the Genetic Counseling Program in the School of Health Professions. Twenty-five students graduated from dual degree programs, and 14 graduates received diplomas from the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

Dr. Andrew L. Lopez III received a Ph.D. in molecular physiology and biophysics for his dissertation, “Functional Analysis of the Embryonic Mouse Heart.” He said his hope is for all the graduates to realize their potential for good in the future.

“As scientists, we have inherited the amazing enterprise that is science-research to solve the big problems and reveal the unknown,” Lopez said. “But more importantly, we have inherited the responsibility of pulling up the next generation of scientists and making sure they are better off than us.”

Two 2020 honorary degree recipients also joined the in-person ceremony as their degrees were conferred during that year’s virtual commencement.

Receiving the honorary Doctor of Humanities in Medicine degree was John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. Bristol-Myers Squibb has worked with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) at Texas Children’s Hospital by providing more than $100 million in support over 20 years.

“A child would die of HIV every minute of every day in sub-Saharan Africa,” Damonti said. “Last year, Mike Mizwa (director of Global Health at Texas Children’s and chief executive officer of BIPAI) called and said the World Health Organization said Botswana is the first country of high HIV to eliminate mother-to-child transmission. All I could do was cry.”

Receiving the honorary Doctor of Letters in Medicine degree was Dr. Peter B. Dervan, professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology who served as chair of the scientific advisory board of the Welch Foundation until 2021.

Dr. Mark Kobelja, chief of staff of the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, received this year’s honorary Doctor of Letters in Medicine degree and delivered the commencement address.

During his address, he commended the doctors made by and who currently work at Baylor College of Medicine. He said the country’s efforts to curb the effects of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis would not have been as successful without Baylor.

“The profession now more than ever depends on public trust,” Kobelja said. “The humanity of people caring for people is what makes this whole machine work. The good news is that you are optimized with education and training, but you must hold on to that humanity of healthcare.”

Kobelja also delivered a short speech on the morning of commencement at Baylor’s Military Commissioning Ceremony, which honored three School of Medicine graduates who will continue to serve their country as doctors.

Captain Summer Walton, U.S. Army, Captain Elizabeth LaFrance, U.S. Army, and Lieutenant Kylie Wilson, U.S. Navy were celebrated by their family, friends and professors at the school’s biggest Military Commissioning Ceremony yet.

Wilson, who will intern in Portsmouth, Virginia, said she is grateful for Baylor’s leadership helping members of the military navigate their responsibilities for school in addition to their official military duties. She said she was honored to serve current military members and veterans.

LaFrance comes from a military family as her father retired from the army, and her brother and sister currently serve. “When I found medicine, the military option was opened to me,” LaFrance said. “I didn’t want my future decided by how many pushups I can do, but once I committed to medicine, I knew the army would want me as a doctor.”

A San Antonio native, Walton is happy to return to the area for her assignment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston. She said she fell in love during her first rotation at the base.

“Dr. (Andrea) Stolar did an amazing job by giving me time off rotations that I needed for the army,” Walton said. “For two summers, I would need four or six weeks for training, and I wouldn’t have been able to be that flexible without the deans’ support.”

By Julie Garcia