Online celebrations honor college’s class of 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has — for now — stolen the time-honored tradition of commencement and hooding from all Cornell graduates. The College of Veterinary Medicine’s graduates were no different. Any other year, CVM students would be embracing, posing for pictures with family, friends and fellow classmates. New veterinarians waving the iconic blown-up rectal sleeves as they process proudly past Cornell’s ivied buildings and stately trees. Nevertheless, the community found new and possibly even more heartfelt ways to celebrate and say goodbye to their seniors.
Members of the D.V.M. class of 2020 joined on a CVM community Zoom call with over 400 participants—including family, friends, CVM staff and faculty. A week earlier, graduating M.P.H. students gathered on Zoom to mark the occasion, and new Ph.D. graduates from CVM’s Biomedical and Biological Sciences Program will be celebrating online this coming weekend.
At the D.V.M. ceremony, Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D.’ 94, Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine, welcomed graduates, their family and friends, and CVM faculty and staff to the virtual gathering. He noted the difficult times the world is currently experiencing, including the global pandemic and the recent killings of Black Americans that has sparked protests and riots across the country. “It has been devastating to read about these events from a distance and I can only imagine the pain of their family members and friends,” Warnick said before asking everyone to hold a moment of silence in honor of the lives lost.
“We are proud of Cornell’s legacy of being founded on a principle of ‘ … any person … any study’” and appreciate that studies veterinary medicine was part of the university since the first classes were held over 150 years ago,” Warnick continued. “I acknowledge that as a university and college, we have not always lived up to the founding ideal of equal access and equity. It is our collective work, and yours as new graduates, to find ways to correct past errors and do better in the future.”
Life hacks from Vet Girl
After these remarks, Warnick welcomed Justine Lee, D.V.M.’97, keynote speaker for the event. Lee, founder and CEO of VETgirl, an online veterinary continuing education platform and a criticalist at Animal Emergency Referral Center of Minnesota, spoke to the graduates in a pre-recorded speech while also attending the live event.
“I’m deeply honored to address you in this virtual celebration,” Lee started, noting that her first year at CVM was extremely challenging. “I got all C’s my first three years, and then got all A’s in clinics, and that’s because I’ve always been a clinician at heart. And that’s honestly what matters the most —what type of clinician you become.” Lee went on to share 10 life hacks from her 20 years of being a professional veterinarian, ranging from, “You don’t grow wings until you you’re forced to fly,” to, “You’re going to make mistakes — that’s how we learn in veterinary medicine. Just don’t make the same mistakes twice.” She also spoke about the importance of valuing one’s time and value as a veterinarian: “Don’t undervalue yourself and charge appropriately,” and stressed how there’s never a right time to make big life decisions such as buying a practice or having children: “Don’t hold yourself back by trying to schedule your life.”
Lee finished by noting how remarkable the class of 2020 is. “Let me tell you how much I applaud you. As a Cornell alum, I know you just survived the four hardest years of your life. You guys have developed resilience and confidence no other veterinary class has had to go through.”
Next, Kathy Edmondson, M.S.’85, Ph.D.’89, assistant dean for students and instruction, announced the recipients of the college’s most prestigious awards.
The award announcement was followed by video compilation in which students, often accompanied by their pets, said their virtual goodbyes and thank yous to their mentors and colleagues at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.
For graduates, the final chapter in their D.V.M. education at Cornell gave them a moment to reflect on their time at CVM.
“The College of Veterinary Medicine and the Cornell University Hospital for Animals are made of amazing, passionate, driven people who funnel their energies into training us to become the best possible veterinarians, and I feel their support as I head out into the world,” said new graduate Olivia Lenz, D.V.M. ’20. “I was expecting to feel anxious about life after graduation, but instead I feel prepared.”
Elizabeth MacArthur, D.V.M. ’20, shared what she’ll miss most about CVM. “I'll miss being able to ask my clinicians a million questions (though I warned them to be prepared for emails),” she said. “I'll miss the guiding words of the technicians as I honed my hands-on skills. And I'll miss the city, more than I can say (the gorges, sure, but mostly the food).”
In turn, college staff and faculty gave their well wishes and farewells in a first-of-its-kind video montage for the class of 2020. Messages showcased artistic talents, including songs, poems and ukulele playing. Some were humorous. Daniel Lopez ’12, D.V.M. ’16, small animal surgery resident promised to tell the “great secret of veterinary medicine” right before his video promptly cut out. (He popped on right after to assure the group of the joke, noting there is no secret).
Other messages went straight to the heart. “It’s been a fantastic journey and I have loved every single one of you,” said Dr. Noha Abou-Madi, associate clinical professor and section chief of zoological medicine. “You have brought so much to my life and really have taught me more than you can imagine. It’s been a privilege and a joy to teach you and be a part of your life.”
Many CVM faculty had messages of parting advice for their new colleagues, including Jordyn Boesch, D.V.M. ’06, senior lecturer in anesthesia and pain medicine, who stressed the importance of work-life balance and making time for self-care. “The reality is that you will be a better vet if you prioritize your physical and mental wellbeing, so don’t be ashamed to do that,” she said.
The ceremony concluded with all D.V.M. students posing together on the Zoom call in their graduation caps for photos— and raucous applause and cheers — from the hundreds of friends, family and CVM community members.
“The time we live in, like life itself, is a mixture of hardship and joy,” Warnick told the group. “We will look forward to hearing from you over the coming years about your career paths, challenges and successes, and welcome you to the profession.”
-By Lauren Cahoon Roberts