Western University of Health Sciences marked two important milestones in its history May 15-17, as the university graduated the inaugural classes of its colleges of Dental Medicine, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine, and also acknowledged its 10,000th graduate.

Activist and actor Edward James Olmos, whose own family has been affected by diabetes and other health issues, was the keynote speaker for the inaugural commencement ceremony for the podiatric medicine, optometry and dental colleges on Wednesday, May 15. He urged the graduates to help as many people as possible, regardless of their circumstances.

"There will be some who cannot pay you. Treat them. There will be people who need hospitals. Go find them. Pay it back by giving of yourself. We need saints out here in today’s world, more than ever," he said.

He also thanked the graduates for choosing health care as a profession, and noted that only with new generations of healers can hope survive. Gesturing to himself and to the faculty assembled on stage at the Pasadena Civic Center auditorium, he said "We’re the wisdom. Youth is the hope. Hope without wisdom is useless. Wisdom without hope dies."

Olmos then pledged to keep helping the needy and underserved, and closed his remarks with the rallying cry made famous by his SyFy Channel show, "Battlestar Galactica": "So say we all!"

College of Optometry graduate Jonathan Chan, OD ’13, said he was grateful to be part of the inaugural class, and that while there were hardships along the way, “I think that’s what it takes to form the building blocks of a good program.”

College of Podiatric Medicine graduate Josh Hunt, DPM ’13, said he made a lot of good friendships in his four years at WesternU, and that being in the charter class required an ability to roll with the changes.

> “The best part was (the College administration) listened to our feedback, and we were able to see those changes implemented,” he said.

Bob Dudzik, father of College of Dental Medicine graduate Christopher Dudzik, DMD ’13, said of his son: “I think his main concern will be for patients. He will make them comfortable. Sometimes there is a negative connotation to seeing a dentist. I think he’s going to bring a positive attitude to the profession, and make people feel good about it.”

The newest WesternU colleges graduated a total of 160 students on May 15 — 73 from Optometry, 64 from Dental Medicine, and 23 from Podiatric Medicine.

In all, the University graduated 932 students from nine colleges over three days, during five ceremonies total.

The second ceremony on May 15, following the inaugural CDM/CO/CPM graduation, was for the College of Pharmacy, which gave diplomas to 147 graduates – eight for Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences, and 139 to new Doctors of Pharmacy.

“I feel very blessed to have gone through the curriculum here at WesternU,” said College of Pharmacy graduate Michael Trillanes, PharmD ’13, who will be entering a residency program at UC San Francisco.

He said he’s ready to leave the comfort of WesternU and take the next step. “It is scary. I feel the safety net is gone. You’re your own pharmacist. But I feel I’m ready.”

On Thursday, May 16, ceremonies were held in the morning for the College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) and the College of Graduate Nursing (CGN), and in the afternoon for the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

At the morning ceremony, keynote speaker Jason Hwang told the 272 total graduates from the two colleges that as new health professionals, “your overarching mission is to protect and care for humanity.”

Hwang, MD, MBA, an internal medicine physician who co-authored “The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care,” said he believes three statements are true about health care as a whole: “There is no better industry to be part of. There is no more honorable profession to be in. And there is no better time to be a health care professional.”

Bart Bosveld attended the ceremony to celebrate his wife, Suzette Grier Bosveld, who was attaining her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. “She’s a marvelous human being. She’s the quintessential nurse. She’s the nurse you would want to have at your bedside in the worst moments,” he said.

Suzette has worked as a nurse for 25 years, and she wanted to give back to the profession, so she began teaching. She is now a College of Graduate Nursing faculty member.

“Students love her. She has a way of teaching that oozes enthusiasm for nursing and taking care of individuals,” Bosveld said.

That afternoon, veterinarian/comedian Kevin Fitzgerald, longtime host of the Animal Planet program “Emergency Vets,” and a 25-year veterinarian, told the College of Veterinary Medicine’s 97 newly minted DVMs that they should not waste time learning any tricks of the trade, “because there are no tricks. You need to learn the art of veterinary medicine.”

Fitzgerald also encouraged the graduates to stay on top of trends and techniques in their profession, and to be willing to adapt to their patients and to society. “Be flexible. You have to adapt, or you become a dinosaur.”

Fitzgerald closed with this guidance: “Stay hungry for knowledge. Be patient. Be flexible. And be cool.”

The CVM ceremony included a brief recognition for WesternU’s 10,000th graduate, Maia Aerni, DVM, the first CVM graduate to receive her diploma in 2013. The landmark number – attached to Aerni through a combination of ceremony scheduling and her last name’s place in the alphabet – was celebrated by Dr. Richard Bond, chairman of the WesternU Board of Trustees, who was the very first graduate of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific’s inaugural class in 1982.

John and Pam Van Kurin, parents of graduate Ashley Van Kurin, DVM ’13, said their daughter wanted to come to WesternU because of all the practical experience CVM students receive.

The key to being a good in any health care field is good people skills, John Van Kurin said.

“She’s (Ashley) great with people, and obviously she’s good with animals,” he said. “The key is demonstrating your passion about the client’s animal, and she’s got that. In working with dog and cat owners, once they see you have that loving personality, people get more comfortable with you as a doctor.”

The Van Kurins also praised WesternU’s tradition of family hooding, wherein relatives and friends of the graduate place the shawl-like hood representing their graduate’s specialty over their head and on their shoulders following the awarding of their diploma.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for my wife and I to demonstrate how proud we are of her accomplishing this tremendous feat,” John said. “We know how much work went into getting to this moment. We’re making a memory today.”

WesternU’s 32nd Annual Commencement exercises ended on Friday morning, May 17, with the awarding of 256 diplomas to graduates of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences.

Dr. Jason Hwang, pulling double duty as a WesternU keynote speaker, told the graduates that the single largest issue they will face in the immediate future will be scope of practice, as the country begins adjusting to the mandates in the Affordable Care Act. How health care is provided must change through disruptive innovation, he said. “The alternative is to put our heads in the sand.

“We all say that we want to help change health care for the better. Well, you already understand the need for innovations,” regardless of where they come from, he told the graduates.

College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific graduate Petros Frousiakis, DO ’13, said he is relieved that medical school is over, and he is excited to move on to the next stage. He will be starting an orthopedic residency in Ventura.

“It hasn’t hit me yet that I’m going to be a doctor,” he admitted. “Today is mostly for my family and my friends for all the sacrifices they had to make.”

The Master of Science in Medical Sciences program, part of the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, helps aspiring health professionals gain an edge when they apply for health professions college programs. Tejal Kothari, MSMS ’13, will enter COMP in the fall.

“It’s a good stepping stone,” she said. “We take a lot of classes with the same faculty that teach in COMP. It’s a good way to prepare for next year.”