Medical school graduates encouraged to become agents for change

Norbert von der Groeben

Among the participants in the ceremony were 51 doctoral students, 12 students receiving a master’s of science and 73 medical students. For more photos, visit

Norbert von der Groeben

Helene Gayle, CARE’s CEO, tells graduates to work for change, saying, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

In the face of some of the worst international economic conditions in recent history, speakers at the School of Medicine's 2009 commencement June 13 assured graduates they're heading off into a new political world full of hope and promise, one that applauds science and medicine as agents of change.

As representatives of the School of Medicine, graduates were urged to take what they've learned at Stanford and make the world a better place.

"We hope that our graduates will be the pacesetters of change," said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, addressing 136 graduates under a white tent on the Dean's Lawn while several hundred family and friends screamed, cheered and applauded.

"The anti-science bias in this country changed tremendously after Jan. 20," said Pizzo, referring to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. "There's been a recognition that what happens in the lab is not only accepted but applauded. Hopefully our graduates will carry that flag."

As they walked across the stage to receive the traditional doctoral hoods from faculty members, the new graduates beamed out at the audience, some holding hands with their young children. One graduate held up her newborn baby for the crowd to admire. Paralympian and doctor of medicine graduate Cheri Blauwet flashed a thumbs up at the applauding audience as she rolled by in her wheelchair.

"That's my baby!" screamed the father of graduate Adeoti Oshinowo as she walked across the stage. Oshinowo, one of two student speakers, waved to her family contingent who showed up in the traditional dress of flowing white robes and elaborate headdresses of their native Nigeria.

"I have just three words for you: Barack Hussein Obama," said Oshinowo, during her speech. A world-class shot-putter, Oshinowo will next be headed for a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan. "Class of 2009, today marks the beginning of a new era. The book of the Stanford University Class of 2009 will be a real page turner."

This year's graduation ceremony, which celebrated the School of Medicine's 50th anniversary at the Palo Alto campus, featured Helene Gayle, MD, the president and CEO of the international poverty-fighting organization CARE, as the featured commencement speaker. Among the graduates were 73 medical students, 51 PhD students and 12 students receiving a master's of science.

"As you sit here looking forward, look backward," said Gayle, named one of Newsweek's top 10 "Women in Leadership" in October 2008. Gayle told students to remember the stories of people such as Donald Henderson, MD, MPH, a physician and an epidemiologist, who headed an international effort during the 1960s to eradicate smallpox, a killer of 500 million people around the world.

"He wiped it from the Earth," said Gayle.

As an activist in college in the 1960s, Gayle said she first realized that a career in medicine would be one of the most powerful paths for achieving social change. She chose medical school as the first step on her path toward fighting global poverty.

"This is a time of incredible challenge," Gayle said. "We are the ones we've been waiting for," she told the graduates, repeating the words from a song that was sung over and over again by the poor women of South Africa during their democratic struggle for freedom. The same quote was chosen by President Obama during his election campaign.

"As the world watches," she said, "realize that you are the ones you've been waiting for."