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WesternU celebrates Class of 2024 ‘elite group of healers’ at Commencement

by Rodney Tanaka

May 28, 2024

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A group of people wearing graduation gowns and caps stand on a red carpet in front of a building, smiling at the camera.
College of Optometry graduates pose on the red carpet outside the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on May 16, 2024. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

Western University of Health Sciences celebrated nearly 1,000 graduates in five Commencement ceremonies held May 15-17, 2024 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. The ceremonies featured inspiring speeches, gratitude, and graduates’ appreciation for their time at WesternU. This class was lauded for its adaptability, perseverance and commitment to community service and humanism.

A person dressed in academic regalia claps their hands on a stage during a formal event.
WesternU President Robin Farias-Eisner, MD, PhD, MBA, applauds the Class of 2024 graduates. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

WesternU President Robin Farias-Eisner, MD, PhD, MBA, presided over the ceremonies. He quoted Mark Twain, who stated “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day that you find out why.”

“Today, we can honestly say that one of those reasons why is you are destined to a higher calling to join the elite group of healers in the art of the medical sciences,” Farias-Eisner said. “You are our new ambassadors and our emissaries. This year, WesternU celebrates a momentous achievement, surpassing 21,000 alumni worldwide. You will now join those elite ranks. You are forever a part of the WesternU community and we welcome you with open arms.”

A person wearing academic regalia speaks at a podium during a ceremony. A red banner and university seal are visible in the background.
WesternU Provost Paula M. Crone, DO ’92, listens for an enthusiastic response from graduates. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

The Class of 2024 is amazing. Many of them started their professional programs during the pandemic lockdown, said WesternU Provost Paula M. Crone, DO ’92. Despite facing numerous obstacles and adversity, they persevered with resilience, determination, and unwavering resolve.

“I never fail to feel hopeful and proud as I watch our graduates receive their diplomas each year,” Crone said. “Graduates, know that as you move forward and take your place in the world of health care, we are proud of you and we have confidence in you. You are entering professions where you get to make an impact, one moment at a time, one patient at a time, one community at a time.”

Each ceremony featured a welcome from a representative from the WesternU Board of Trustees, including BOT members Tony Chan, PharmD, John Forbing, Catherine Mater, MSCE, and Dianne Philibosian, PhD.

A person in academic regalia speaks at a podium with a Western University of Health Sciences emblem, with a large red and pink backdrop and another person seated in the background.
WesternU Board of Trustees member Dianne Philibosian, PhD, provides the Board of Trustees Welcome at the CHS ceremony. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

“At WesternU, we foster a community built on our foundational values of caring, respect, empathy and trust. Today marks the closing of one chapter but signifies the exciting opening of another,” Philibosian said. “We’re incredibly proud to send you forth as humanistic health care professionals. You are prepared to make a profound impact on the world. Remember, the WesternU family remains an ongoing source of strength, ready to celebrate your triumphs and offer guidance when needed. We’ll never forget you and we’re here to support you and please, never forget us.”

WesternU now has 21,293 alumni, having celebrated more than 1,000 graduates over seven ceremonies in Pasadena and Lebanon, Oregon. Speakers throughout the ceremonies emphasized graduates’ important place in caring for, healing, and helping society.

A person in academic regalia speaks passionately at a podium. A red circular emblem is in the background.
Dr. John P. Hamilton provides the keynote address at the CHS Commencement ceremony May 15, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

John P. Hamilton, EdD, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Strategic Partnership and Student Success Initiatives for the California State University Chancellor’s Office, provided the keynote address at the College of Health Sciences ceremony. He encouraged audience participation, asking the graduates to respond to “You made it!” with “I made it!”

We have had to navigate a pandemic world, a warring world, and people just trying to find their place in this world, Hamilton said. We’ve had to adapt to how to lead, teach, learn and connect with others alternatively. Because of this I subscribe that you must be willing to do things today that others are not willing to do tomorrow. You must change or enhance your mindset to accept the challenge of the new normal. You must be committed to your greatness.

“I am honored to be here with you today because not only has WesternU trained a group of individuals to enter the medical doors, they have cultivated a group of individuals to return to their communities with ideas as thought leaders, as curators of support to give back,” Hamilton said. “As you walk across this stage today you must be starting a new chapter of your life. The degree will elevate you and place many opportunities in front of you to better your life situation.”

Graduates in academic regalia stand and raise their right hands during a ceremony in a crowded auditorium.
College of Pharmacy graduates recite the Oath of a Pharmacist. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

WesternU graduates are looking forward to serving their communities. College of Pharmacy graduate Jonathan Hua, PharmD ’24, said he has wanted to become a pharmacist since high school. He was always interested in chemistry and he liked memorizing medication names. He will enter a residency at VA Long Beach Health Care after graduation.

“With my experience working in the community and in-patient hospital settings, I feel like I am able to make a difference,” Hua said. “I’m ecstatic with the choices I made.”

Four individuals in academic regalia pose on a stage during a graduation ceremony, with one person holding a diploma. A red banner with "Western University of Health" and part of the College of Dental Medicine is visible in the background.
Left to right: CDM Dean Elizabeth Andrews, DDS, MS, WesternU Board of Trustees member Tony Chan, PharmD, COP Dean Sunil Prabhu, BPharm, PhD, and WesternU President Robin Farias-Eisner, MD, PhD, MBA. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

A kind word. A listening ear. These seemingly very small gestures can make a whole world of difference to these patients or to someone you will encounter, said Tony L. Chan, PharmD, who serves on the WesternU Board of Trustees and provided the keynote address at the College of Pharmacy and College of Dental Medicine Commencement ceremony.

“The world needs your expertise, your compassion, and your unwavering dedication,” Chan said. “Walk out of those doors today with immense pride in everything you have accomplished and remember, there will be laughter and there will be challenges, but most importantly, there will be a lifetime of making a positive impact on the world, one smile or one prescription at a time.”

A speaker stands at a podium with a backdrop displaying "Western University of Health Sciences" and details of Teresa A. Hubka, DO, LHD (Hon.), as President-Elect of the American Osteopathic Association.
AOA President-Elect Teresa A. Hubka, DO, gives the keynote address at the COMP and CPM Commencement ceremony. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Teresa A. Hubka, DO, President-Elect of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), addressed College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific and College of Podiatric Medicine graduates. She noted this Class of 2024 entered osteopathic and podiatric medical school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet in the face of adversity, they remained steadfast in their pursuit of their dreams. They navigated virtual anatomy labs and embraced social distancing while studying medicine, an experience unlike any other in the history of medical education.

“The true measure of a physician lies not in the accolades they receive or the titles they hold, but the lives they touch and the difference they make in the world,” Hubka said. “You are all here to make that difference.”

Graduates in black caps and gowns with yellow stoles smile and wave on a red carpet during a graduation ceremony outdoors.
College of Podiatric Medicine graduates prepare to enter the auditorium for their Commencement ceremony May 15, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

She told graduates to never lose sight of the profound impact they can make in the lives of others.

“Whether you choose to practice in underserved communities, pursue groundbreaking research, or advocate for health care reform, know that your contributions have the potential to touch countless lives and inspire future generations of healers,” Hubka said. “Go forth in the world and carry with you the wisdom of your education with compassion in your hearts and the courage of your convictions.”

A speaker in academic regalia, including a black cap and gown, speaks at a podium with a microphone. The background features bold red and pink text.
Joshua Aaron Pe, OD ’24, served as the College of Optometry graduate speaker at Commencement May 16, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Joshua Aaron Pe, OD ’24, served as the College of Optometry graduate speaker at Commencement. He said remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was a daunting experience. For the first year and a half their class only knew each other as boxes on a screen, he said.

“Despite that being the case, we came together, we persevered, and we learned to adapt to a curriculum that seemed to change day to day,” Pe said. “Even though our journey may have been unconventional, and many times we were left to feel like we were jumping through hoops, I am proud to look upon my colleagues today and see so many competent clinicians and good friends.  As our time at WesternU comes to an end and we start the next chapter of our professional journey, we are building a legacy that will continue on to future generations and the impact we will make in this world cannot be overstated. Our adaptability is our greatest asset and will serve us well as we continue to grow our knowledge, advocate for our profession, and serve our community.”

A person in academic regalia speaks at a podium during a graduation ceremony, with a university emblem visible in the background.
Dr. Edwin C. Marshall addresses College of Optometry and College of Graduate Nursing graduates at Commencement May 16, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Edwin C. Marshall, OD, MS, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Optometry and Public Health at Indiana University, addressed College of Optometry and College of Graduate Nursing graduates. WesternU’s home page features a word cloud with humanism boldly in the center and shadowed by other words like sympathy, compassion, equity, humility, justice and respect.

“Your education and training have prepared you, and now command you, to remember that medicine is a social science, and health is not a silo unto itself,” Marshall said. “It does not occur in a vacuum or the specificity to a given organ or condition, but is a complex mosaic of contextual factors that surround and shape us in our everyday lives and mediate our overall well-being.”

Graduates in caps and gowns move their tassels from right to left during a commencement ceremony. They wear maroon stoles and medallions over black robes.
College of Graduate Nursing graduates move their tassels to the left side, signifying their transition from students to alumni. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Health care is about more than responding to a specific complaint, condition or illness. It extends to the need and obligation to help people attain good health, he said.

“To be trusted communicators, in a holistic sense, you must be intentional about going beyond the transactional competencies of your profession. And center the relational or interpersonal element of humanism as fundamental and indispensable to advancing health quality, equity, and well-being across all of humanity,” Marshall said.

A person in graduation attire speaks at a podium with a university insignia and large red "2023" in the background.
College of Graduate Nursing graduate speaker Marine Sargsyan, MSN-E ’24. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

College of Graduate Nursing graduate speaker Marine Sargsyan, MSN-E ’24, told her classmates that their dedication and resilience have been a constant source of inspiration.

“Our time here has been marked by shared experiences – late night study sessions and moments of self-doubt, I know I’ve had my fair share, and victories big and small. Yet amongst it all we have created connections that go past the limits of our studies, forming a bond that will endure far beyond the walls of our beloved Swift Hall,” Sargsyan said. “As we each pursue our unique journeys let’s hold on to the values instilled in us at WesternU – empathy, integrity, and a dedication to continuous learning. Let’s face the obstacles ahead with kindness and determination, as we are equipped with the abilities to make a positive impact in our communities and beyond.”

A speaker in academic regalia addresses the audience from a podium at a graduation ceremony. The backdrop displays "Western University of Health Sciences.
College of Podiatric Medicine graduate speaker Jashpreet Singh Sanghera, DPM ’24. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

College of Podiatric Medicine graduate speaker Jashpreet Singh Sanghera, DPM ’24, opened by apologizing on behalf of his classmates to all their friends and family for all the times they were delayed in responding to texts and phone calls.

“We were stressed, anxious, and just drained, so thank you for being patient with us over these four years. Your unconditional support means more than you can imagine,” Sanghera said. “To my classmates, I will forever cherish the moments we had together – the ups, the downs, the good times and bad. The house parties we absolutely did not throw during COVID restrictions. Thank you for allowing me into your lives, and I look forward to our lifelong friendships. May the rest of our bright futures be filled with fun, joy and fulfillment, and, fingers crossed, family functions with the least amount of consults possible. Congratulations, friends.”

Four people dressed in academic regalia celebrate in front of a Western University backdrop with balloons. They hold metallic number balloons forming "2023.
Left to right: Doctor of Nursing Practice Class of 2024 graduates Christian Custodio, Erica Rodriguez, Stephanie Lewis and Alea Foster. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

CGN graduate Stephanie E. Lewis, DNP ’24, said the Commencement experience was exhilarating.

“It’s really a pleasure. The academic rigor and scholarship standards are high, but they are done with compassion and support,” she said.

She wanted to earn her doctorate because she wants to give back to the profession and also be better equipped to train the next generation of nurses.

“My father was a high school teacher. He recently passed. I told him I will be returning to school to be a teacher. It will be full circle,” Lewis said. “I will honor his legacy and create a new path of being compassionate in the education of nursing students for the future.”

A speaker in academic regalia addresses the audience from a podium at a university event. The backdrop displays the words "Western University" and "College of Veterinary Medicine.
CVM keynote speaker Kwane Stewart, DVM. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Kwane Stewart, DVM, Co-Founder and President of Project Street Vet, talked about an act of compassion that changed the course of his life in his keynote address to College of Veterinary Medicine graduates. He had reached a personal and professional crossroads more than a decade ago while working as a shelter veterinarian in Modesto. The euthanasia rate was destroying his soul, and he was thinking about quitting the profession. As he walked out of a 7-Eleven one day, he saw an unhoused man and his dog. He observed that the dog had a serious skin issue and diagnosed the pet with chronic fleas. He told the man he would be back the next day with treatment. The same man and his dog were there 12 days later, and the dog was full of life.

“The man was sitting in the same spot with tears in his eyes looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you for not ignoring me.’ That was the moment for me. I made them a pledge that I was going to find more people like them. That was 13 years ago, and I haven’t stopped since,” Stewart said. “The moral of that story is your degree, your talents, your expertise and training will transform animal lives, yes, and you will see that. But you’re also going to transform human lives. And I never quite got that until that moment. I didn’t really do anything directly for that gentleman, but I changed his life. He’ll never forget it and I’ll never forget it.”

A large group of graduates in caps and gowns sit and clap in an auditorium filled with people.
College of Veterinary Medicine graduates are all smiles at their Commencement ceremony. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Family hooding is an unforgettable moment at Commencement where a loved one steps onstage with their graduate and places the academic hood on their shoulders. Linda and Steve Robinson were preparing to hood their daughter, Morgan Robinson, DVM ’24, at the College of Veterinary Medicine ceremony.

“I feel honored and very proud,” Linda said. “I’m privileged to go up on stage with her and share that moment she worked so hard to get.”

College of Health Sciences MSPA graduate Kate Beilby, MSPA ’24, said she is excited about the Commencement ceremony because it’s a nice way to commemorate all the hard work she put into the program. She is graduating with some friends for life who understand what you’re going through in your career.

“It’s a great program with a larger group of people from all different walks of life, which was appealing to me,” Beilby said. “Different perspectives, different upbringings, who will be working in communities that need it as well.

“The PA profession is very patient facing and very patient oriented, which is something I wanted in a career,” Beilby added. “We also have the ability to work in any field and specialty. Whatever path we end up choosing, we will be versatile, adaptable, and part of the team.”

A group of four graduates in green and black gowns pose with a faculty member in a green and yellow gown in front of a Western University backdrop with balloons.
COMP Acting Dean David Connett, DO ’84, (second from right) with COMP Class of 2024 graduates. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

COMP graduate Anthony Nazaryan, DO ’24, said he enjoyed his WesternU experience because of the direct mentorship he received from those who really cared about the progress he made in learning. He is entering a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency after graduation.

“I want to help people,” Nazaryan said. “I like to know things and to learn things and to teach. Being a doctor is the best way to continue to learn and grow and teach patients as well.”

CHS Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate Dillon Duong, DPT ’24, said he was drawn to WesternU because of the educational opportunities and its humanistic, holistic values. He appreciates the impact PTs can have on their patients.

“It’s the little things, helping patients throughout their daily lives,” Duong said. “Something as simple as picking up groceries from the ground may seem small, but it has a big impact in their life.”

A group of graduates in black gowns and caps, some holding yellow stoles, walk in a line during a graduation ceremony.
College of Health Sciences graduates walk to the auditorium prior to their Commencement ceremony May 15, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

The Master of Science in Medical Sciences program was transformative, said Joseph Nguyen, MSMS ’24. He is entering COMP in the fall, with a strong foundation provided by the MSMS program.

“I learned a lot about the ups and downs, going through the rigors of it. I’m prepared for my future endeavors,” Nguyen said. “Without this program I would definitely be lost. Going into this program I was lost, and it helped correct our path. I definitely feel a lot more prepared. I’m appreciative of how far I’ve come.”

A graduate in cap and gown speaks at a podium during a commencement ceremony. A large red backdrop and other graduates in caps and gowns are visible in the background.
MSBPS graduate speaker Katherine Bang speaks at the COP and CDM Commencement ceremony May 16, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

COP Master of Science in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Sciences graduate Katherine Bang, MSBPS ’24, said her class has matured professionally and personally since the white coat ceremony and the first day in their labs.

“We are here today because of the invaluable support from our friends, family and the WesternU community,” Bang said. “So as we move forward, let’s remember our passion, our resilience, and our dedication. And let’s never forget the love and support that brought us here today.”

Two women wearing graduation gowns and caps stand in front of a red Western University Alumni Association backdrop with white and maroon balloons.
College of Veterinary Medicine graduates Satra Bartelt, DVM ’24 (left), and Sirena Nicole Burgueno, DVM ’24. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

CVM graduate Sara Bartelt, DVM ’24, said she has wanted to work with animals since age 5. Her undergraduate mentor and advisor told her about WesternU, and CVM’s interview process confirmed why she wanted to come here.

“I like the fact in interviews they were looking for are you good fit for the campus rather than based just on grades,” Bartelt said. “Clearly we all were.”

College of Dental Medicine graduate Daniela Gonzalez, DMD ’24, said she chose WesternU because of the friendly atmosphere and the numerous community outreach and volunteer opportunities. Her father is a dentist, so she grew up in that environment.

“A huge part of dentistry is the profession involves so much trust. I really also love being able to get to know people,” Gonzalez said. “I also really like with dentistry, I can do something right there to take them out of pain. It’s a transformative profession too.”

Four people wearing graduation caps and gowns smile while holding diplomas.
College of Dental Medicine graduates celebrate receiving their diplomas after the Commencement ceremony May 16, 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

COMP posthumously honored two members of the family – Kay Kalousek, DO ’89, MS ’94, AAHIVE, FACOFP, an alumna and longtime faculty member and administrator, and Sumeet Brar, a member of the DO Class of 2024.

Graduates sit in a theater, dressed in green and black gowns, with a bouquet of white flowers placed on one of the seats.
COMP reserved a seat for Sumeet Brar, a member of the DO Class of 2024. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

COMP reserved a seat at Commencement for Brar, who aspired to specialize in psychiatry. He made a profound impact on our community with his intelligence, compassion and dedication, said COMP and COMP-Northwest Acting Dean David Connett, DO ’84.

“He exemplified the best of our profession, blending academic excellence with a genuine commitment to serving others. His willingness to help peers and mentor newcomers and contribute to the community demonstrated the core values of osteopathic medicine,” Connett said. “While we deeply feel Sumeet’s absence today, we also celebrate his life and the legacy he leaves behind. His spirit continues to inspire us to strive for excellence and to live by the principles he embodied.”

COMP posthumously conferred upon Brar the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, which was presented to his parents.

A graduation ceremony at Western University with speakers on stage in academic regalia. A large screen in the background displays a portrait and details about Kay Kalousek, Chair/Professor, Department of Family Medicine.
Dr. David Connett (left) honors the life of WesternU alumna and longtime faculty member and administrator Dr. Kay Kalousek. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Connett also honored Dr. Kalousek, a revered faculty member and administrator who dedicated her life to medicine and education. Her influence remains a beacon that guides our community, Connett said.

“Her commitment to nurturing the next generation of health care professionals has left an indelible mark in our hearts and on the medical profession,” Connett said. “As we celebrate today’s milestone let us carry forth the values that Dr. Kalousek championed. To the graduates, I urge you to embrace the legacy of dedication and service that she exemplified.

Let her life remind us of the impact one individual can make in the lives of many. To Dr. Kalousek, thank you for your invaluable contribution to our College and the world of medicine. Your memory will continue to inspire us and guide our path forward.”

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