WMed celebrates the graduation of its seventh class of new physicians during commencement ceremony at WMU’s Miller Auditorium

MD Class of 2024 Commencement Group Photo
The MD Class of 2024 was honored during a commencement ceremony on May 9, 2024, at WMU's Miller Auditorium.

When he began his address to the MD Class of 2024, Saad B. Omer, MPH, PhD, MBBS, took the students back to when they began medical school, reminding them of how their journey started in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And then, he immediately looked forward and spoke of how the last four years can help shape their futures as young physicians.

Saad B. Omer, MPH, PhD, MBBS
Saad B. Omer, MPH, PhD, MBBS

“It was not your choice to start your medical training surrounded by an enormous tragedy but it is your choice how you are shaped by it because the greatest of generations come out of the darkest of tragedies,” Dr. Omer said. ‘You are the first cohort of a generation of physicians and scientists molded by this adversity. You have the choice to be the greatest generation of physicians  and scientists there ever was."

Dr. Omer, who serves as founding dean of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at UT Southwestern Medical Center, was the keynote speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony, which was held on May 9, 2024, at WMU’s Miller Auditorium. The event was a celebration for the medical school’s seventh class of new doctors, as well as graduates of the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences and Medical Engineering degree programs.

WMed Dean Robert G. Sawyer, MD, congratulated the 84 MD graduates for selecting a career path “that will have a profound impact on the health of individuals and the communities where they will live.”

“Each graduating class contributes to building our legacy and a rich history of excellence,” Dr. Sawyer said. “Your success as graduates is a measure of our success as a medical school. We look forward to all that you will achieve throughout your careers and watching how the work you do benefits our society.”

Robert G. Sawyer, MD, Class of 2024 Commencement
WMed Dean Robert G. Sawyer, MD

Students from the MD Class of 2024 arrived at WMed in July 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. As she addressed her classmates, M4 Amy Shao recalled the “scary, unprecedented time” and how the cohort met for lectures on Microsoft Teams and had to wear face masks and face shields during anatomy lab and Medical First Responder training.

“People told us medical school would be tough, but it’s hard to conceptualize until you actually go through it, and over the next four years I know we all had days that absolutely sucked,” Shao said. “On the flip side, I know we all had days that were uplifting and fulfilling and reminded us why we decided to do medicine in the first place.

“You navigated through all your bad days and rejoiced at all your better days and balanced everything in life to make it to today,” Shao added. “And now, you’re about to become empathetic, compassionate, and hard-working doctors, with some extra wrinkles and dark circles, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work you’ve put in. I’m sure residency will have its own good and bad days, but I’m confident you’ll make it through, and I can’t wait to see all the places you’ll go and accomplishments you’ll achieve.”

In his remarks to the Class of 2024, Dr. Omer told the students that, as their journey as physicians gets underway, they must strive to do better than their predecessors. He said they must work to build a more just world, be active participants in the battle against global climate change, and create “a world in which your patients’ well-being is not continuously threatened by the ever-present demons of racism and authoritarianism.”

At the same time, Dr. Omer told the students they will face many challenges in the coming years – life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped and access to quality healthcare remains unequal. Misinformation is also rampant, he said, and distrust in medicine and the healthcare system is unacceptably high.

Amy Shao, MD, Class of 2024 Commencement
Amy Shao, MD

“It is these challenges, medical and social, that you and your patients face,” Dr. Omer said. “Greatness is not achieved on cruise control. It is by rising to generational challenges that you will become the greatest generation of physicians.”

As he concluded his address, Dr. Omer reminded the students that as they become the greatest generation of doctors in the coming years, they also have a responsibility to make sure they do not remain the greatest generation for long. That torch, he said, must be passed to the next generation of doctors who will follow in their footsteps.

“Not because of a greater tragedy but because you made sure that you passed on your wisdom by being better mentors than we ever were,” Dr. Omer said. “I am optimistic that you all can do this. To borrow from the Nobel Prize winning paster from Atlanta, you must act with the ‘fierce urgency of now’ because I often say hope is not a delusion, because you have the power to change things.

“As Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility.”