Lifelong dreams were realized as WesternU graduates took their place among health care professionals.

Western University of Health Sciences held commencement ceremonies for its five colleges on May 14-15, 2009 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, conferring degrees upon 658 students. View photo gallery

Festivities kicked off with the College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) and the College of Graduate Nursing (CGN) ceremony. CAHP conferred master’s degrees in health sciences and physician assistant studies and doctor of physical therapy degrees. CGN issued family nurse practitioner certificates, master of science in nursing and doctor of nursing practice degrees.

Richard Bond, DO ’82, a WesternU Board of Trustees member and a member of the first graduating class of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, served as the keynote speaker. He focused on the theme, "Teamwork and Technology," telling graduates that they should seek out employers who embrace technological advancements.

"Technology is your friend," he said. "Even if your role in the health care team is ‘hands-on,’ and you don’t need Epocrates in your pocket, the technologies of communications and information can free your brains for thinking, that a machine cannot do, and free your time for feeling, and being the compassionate professionals you want to be – and that I know you will be. You’ve mastered the discipline of learning. Now comes the art of caring."

One of the highlights of commencement is when family and friends come onstage to place the academic hoods on graduates. Joyce Boyd of Los Angeles was beaming from the balcony Thursday as she waited to hood her daughter, Astar Givan, who was to receive her DPT degree.

"It’s a beautiful day. I’m very proud," Boyd said. "She’s worked really hard, and she really deserves this."

Joyce was accompanied by Dr. Tori Canillas, a nursing instructor at Mount St. Mary’s and longtime family friend, who also was to take part in the hooding ceremony.

"You know what’s nice about your ceremony?" Canillas said. "They don’t usually give this honor (hooding) to family. It’s a very nice touch."

The DPT Class of 2009 will be missed, said Dee Schilling, PT, PhD, Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy Education.

"I have never seen a class of students so cohesive and supportive of each other," she said. "When the president talks about the WesternU family, this class represents that."

Wendy Delgado of Diamond Bar received her Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. She holds a bachelor’s in social work from Cal State Fullerton, and had about 30 family and friends at graduation, including her 4-year-old daughter, Krischelle.

Wendy is a single mom who wants not only to help people, but to provide a good living for her daughter. She’s had a couple of job offers, and once she gets working would like to volunteer to speak to young women about the importance of having goals and getting an education.

"It’s definitely a big accomplishment," Delgado said. "I always knew I wanted to get a master’s degree, and I’m excited that I’m going to help people and also be providing for (Krischelle)."

The College of Graduate Nursing gave diplomas to 14 students in the inaugural Doctor of Nursing Practice program. But these students still have work ahead – the completion of one final class and their dissertations.

"This first class of DNP students are going to be trailblazers in developing the DNP role in the western United States," said Ellen Daroszewski, PhD, APRN, DNP director. "They will be role models for other students."

Cindie Fike, DNP ’09, said balancing academics, family and other responsibilities was difficult, but it was a great experience. Her family had plenty to celebrate – both Fike and her daughter, Lisa McAfee, earned doctorates. McAfee graduated the next day from COMP.

"We’re each other’s inspiration," Fike said. "We were going to make it no matter what. It’s a dream come true for us."

Pat Fike, Cindie’s husband, had the privilege of seeing his wife and daughter both earn doctorates.

"It’s amazing to see the hard work they put in come to fruition," he said. "I don’t think any words could capture how proud I am of them both."

The College of Pharmacy’s 10th graduating class totaled 117, with five receiving MSPS degrees and 112 receiving PharmD degrees. The graduates’ audience of family and friends was a lively one – there was plenty of hooting and hollering as the graduates entered and were announced, camera flashes and video screens could be seen everywhere, and a couple of signs were held up on a regular basis.

Following an invocation by Jeffrey Wang, BPharm, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, Dr. Lucinda Maine, executive vice president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, was welcomed as the commencement speaker. After receiving an honorary degree from Dr. Pumerantz and Dean Robinson, she told the graduates that the future of health care and of pharmaceutical practice in our world is virtually boundless, and that they must be prepared to keep learning and seize opportunities.

"This is a time of great change and potential," Maine said. "Never think that today marks the end of your education."

She also urged the graduates to follow the HOPE model, with H standing for health reform, O for optimism, P for practical-model change, and E for expectation.

COP students are wasting no time in utilizing classroom lessons in the "real world." Graduates Kelly Long and Jacinda Telles will be opening a vaccination clinic, TravelPrep, in Costa Mesa after they pass their board exams. The idea came from a class project where they developed everything from marketing fliers to a standard operating procedure.

"We put so much work into this theoretical clinic, we said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ " Long said.

Sybil Easton Watterson said her son, Dax Easton, PharmD ’09, had wanted to be a doctor since kindergarten. He loves medicine and always tries to help others if they’re sick or suffering, she said."

"My heart is just bursting with joy and excitement," she said. "He’s made us proud. He’s exceeded our expectations."

The family and friends of COMP’s 195 graduates – 99 women and 96 men – were regaled with music by the Pomona Concert Band prior to Friday morning’s commencement exercises.

The National Anthem was sung by a quartet of Class of 2009 DO grads – Juliette R. Asuncion, Marika Y. Gassner, Preston W. Shumway and Cara L. Johnson — and was followed by an invocation from Rabbi Gil Alchadeff of Temple Shalom of Ontario, Calif., who asked everyone to pray for God to "remind them (the graduates) of the need to be healthy themselves" as they are helping others heal.

"May Your kindness always accompany them … may Your presence never fail them," Rabbi Alchadeff concluded.

Dean Clinton Adams then introduced COMP’s keynote speaker, Dr. William G. Anderson, who received an honorary degree from Dr. Pumerantz and Dr. Adams. Each COMP graduate also received a signed copy of Dr. Anderson’s book, "Autobiographies of a Black Couple of the Greatest Generation."

After noting that he’d been instructed to be brief, Dr. Anderson started his address by raising his right arm and telling the graduates "Never quit!" He then promptly sat down. After a few moments of laughter, he returned to the podium and began his real speech: reminding the graduates that the rights and privileges that come with being a doctor of osteopathic medicine also include duties and responsibilities.

""You are inheriting the earth," he told them. "You may take a look at it and say, "I didn’t want this!’ But you are inheriting it anyway."

Anderson, who was deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s – he was friends with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and with Ralph Abernathy, and spearheaded the Albany Movement in southwest Georgia – urged the Class of 2009 to "live the dream of service to the community in which you live," and noted that every member of the osteopathic medicine community depends on every other member for support and motivation.

"So what can we do for you, graduates, now that you inherit the earth?" he asked. "I can tell you to do this: Take pride in your accomplishments. Never complain. And never underestimate your ability to make a difference."

Four years went by faster than COMP graduates expected.

"When I started med school, I didn’t see this day coming," said Cory Hata, who will enter an emergency medicine residency at the University of Texas at Houston.

The transition from undergraduate to medical school was tough, but became manageable after some adjustments, he said. His advice for new COMP students is to have a good work ethic and a good attitude.

"Find the best way to study for yourself," he said. "Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go your way. You have to have intelligence, but the most important thing is to just work hard."

Not every graduate had the goal of becoming a doctor while growing up. Breda Whelan Carroll avoided science and math classes as an undergraduate, and became a dancer and yoga instructor, said her mother, Bernadette Carroll. A physical therapist inspired her to enter medicine, and Bernadette marveled at her daughter’s ability to balance work with going back to school for math and science prerequisites.

"We’re very happy and very excited," Bernadette Carroll said. "She’s evolved into being a doctor."

Many of the College of Veterinary Medicine graduates wanted to be veterinarians from an early age. And many people who have succeeded in other professions had the dream of becoming a veterinarian, including Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, said College of Veterinary Medicine commencement speaker Marty Becker, DVM, a veterinarian, media personality, lecturer, author and columnist.

"There are tens of millions of people out there that dream of being in your seats today," he told the graduates. "You’re one of America’s elite, the chosen few. Just 2,500 people get to graduate this year blessed with the opportunity to join the 60,000 veterinarians who get to belong to a calling – talk about the greatest profession on earth."

The "fifth year" of vet school, when graduates transition from school to the real world, is the hardest, he said. They will be challenged by a whirlwind of changes and the realization that their dream may have little resemblance to how they envisioned it when they started down this path.

"What will see you through this whirlwind is to look deep within yourselves for your core values and hidden assets," Becker said. "What you love the most will give you the greatest strength."

CVM graduate Lauren Work was the very last person to walk across the Pasadena Civic Auditorium stage and receive a diploma during WesternU’s 2009 Commencement Exercises.

"I’m definitely excited and ready to get things started," said Work, who in June will start an internship at a veterinary practice in Menlo Park, near San Francisco.

Work focused on equine animals during her studies, an interest that started when she was a child and would be "out working in the barn all the time. I loved it there, and loved horses. It never occurred to me that it could become a career." She said she picked WesternU because she got a good hit off the faculty and environment during a visit, and not least because "it totally reminded me of my old elementary school, in a good way."

Graduate Kara Breeding said what she liked most about studying veterinary medicine at WesternU was that "we had a lot of independence to learn on our own. Problem-based learning really worked for me."

Breeding, who is moving back to Denver to do a small animal internship, said she wanted to become a veterinarian for the same reason many of her fellow graduates did – "I loved science and animals" – but that it took a long time for her to realize the two things could go together.

"I tried to do other things, and never found anything that made me happy," she said. "This makes me happy."