At 2 pm on May 17, 2019, the 39 members that comprised the UMSL College of Optometry Class of 2019 walked onto the stage at the Touhill Performing Arts Center as aspiring health care professionals; 75 minutes later they stepped off of the stage as doctors of optometry. In a beautiful ceremony worthy of the Touhill Center, a class that made quite a difference in the College of Optometry received the coveted honor that they so deserved in front of a large audience of excited friends and family members.
The honorees followed Student Marshal Alexandra Gada (’19) with popular Professor Carl Bassi serving as Faculty Marshal and Clinical Professor Julie DeKinder as the Master of Ceremonies. Assistant Dean Dr. Ed Bennett – who was introduced by Director of Clinical Operations Vinita Henry – provided the commencement address. He emphasized all that this class had accomplished, both within the college and nationally for the profession. His address to the graduates included the following:
1) Initiating a national organization, the United Optometrists Association, with a mission of solving inequality within the profession.
2) Leading the way for the College of Optometry to win the coveted “Spirit Award” and then helping develop and produce an outstanding rules video.
3) An exceptional performance on the NBEO examinations, including a first-time 100% success rate on Part Three.
4) Rallying behind a classmate, Adam Wira, OD, who was diagnosed with cancer and helping him and his family by providing meals, notes, and working with our faculty to help him as he continued to stay in school while undergoing chemotherapy.
And he made it clear who the Class of 2019 is. “In your own words, you are individuals who are willing to put in the work to make whatever you endeavor to do better. You are individuals who want to speak for those who don’t have a voice. You are individuals who have had a significant impact on our program, and you are individuals whose legacy will be felt by our current and future students. As you go out into the world, it wouldn’t be surprising if we see your class as the future leaders of their communities and in our profession.” And he finished his address with this directive to the class: “and my charge to you from this day forward is to exceed your goals… To endeavor to take your legacy at UMSL of proactive change, leadership, equality, and diversity and put the profession of optometry on your shoulders – lift it from here (waist level) … up to here (head level) …By going out and making a difference in the lives of other people.
You – of all people – can accomplish that, and we will all benefit from your efforts.”
Chancellor Thomas George conferred the degrees, and Dean Larry Davis assisted the Chancellor. Then each doctor of optometry was recognized and walked across the stage to be hooded by Drs. Ed Bennett and Katie Boland. Finally, many of our young doctors were honored during the awards presentation. None were acknowledged more than Dr. Alexandra Gada. In addition to being selected as Student Marshal, she also received the Robert A. Koetting Scholarship, the GPLI Clinical Excellence Award, the Award for Excellence in Low Vision, and the Service to Students Award. The Silver Medal Award and Earl McClellan Award (sponsored by the Missouri Optometric Association) for outstanding scholarship were both presented to Dr. Valerie Leff, who shared the latter award with Dr. Shannon Renner. The most outstanding clinician is recognized with the Missouri Optometric Association Award for Excellence in Clinical Skills as selected by the chiefs of each clinical service. The 2019 recipient was Dr. Justine Adriaansen. Dr. Kate Hamm, four-year Class Representative who received multiple honors including the Dr. Raymond I. Myers Outstanding Leadership Award, thanked Chancellor George by presenting him with a framed and signed print of the Patient Care Center. Dr. Hamm also introduced the recipient of the ceremony’s final award. The coveted Outstanding Educator Award went to Dr. Katie Boland.
The evening concluded with the annual “Welcome to the New Alumni,” which was provided by Dr. Scott Ream (’87), who was recently appointed to the Missouri State Board of Optometry. The 39 doctors of optometry then proceeded off of the stage into several photo opportunities on a beautiful afternoon, sure to be followed by a career which will bring many accomplishments, prestige, and distinction to both their profession and the UMSL College of Optometry.