Thousands gathered at the University Park Campus on Saturday, May 13, to join in the celebration as the USC Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences marked its 116th Commencement – its first on the University Park Campus in decades.
Janet S. Wright, MD, director of the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), served as keynote speaker. In addition to her encouraging remarks, attendees heard inspiring words from Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos and three members of the class of 2023.
Many of the graduates began their studies in fall 2019, just before COVID-19 started spreading. All are now receiving their degrees only weeks after numerous international, national and local agencies officially declared the end of the pandemic as a health emergency.
“You will use the knowledge and skills you have gained to help others in future crises – whether global or individual, such as those who continue to face chronic disease,” said Papadopoulos, who presided over the event in McCarthy Quad.
Rising rates of chronic disease and opioid overdoses, and the need to improve health equity and healthcare access, mean the skills instilled at the Mann School are needed now more than ever, Papadopoulos continued. “You have the expertise, the compassion, the courage and the dedication to step forward again,” he told the freshly-minted alumni.
“These diplomas bearing your names are a testament to the difference you have already made – and are destined to make in the future – in the lives of people everywhere.”
“Trust your instincts, and take a leap”
Wright, a cardiologist who has led efforts such as Million Hearts, a national initiative co-led by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes in the United States, has dedicated her career to reducing the impacts of chronic disease.
She reflected on her upbringing as the child of a primary care doctor and nurse in a small Mississippi Delta community, where the town pharmacist was on call 24/7, and, along with her parents, would share medical advice as an “in-pew health expert” at the local church.
After originally aspiring to be a TV journalist, Wright described how she later turned her sights to cardiology, then association leadership, then federal service in public health.
Wright urged the graduates not to hesitate in questioning their professional priorities as well as personal goals. “Having endured a once-in-a-century pandemic, all of us have a new lens in defining our purpose on the planet,” Wright said. “You, too, will reinvent yourself. As you ricochet from the bumps and bruises of life, you, too, will redefine your purpose along the way. You’ll find your highest goal over and over. You, too, will leap perhaps several times in the decades ahead.”
She left the graduates with a lesson about decision-making she learned from her family’s beloved hunting dog, Polly, who would pause and quiver – head held high and nostrils flaring – when catching the scent of a nearby bird. “She completely trusted her senses,” Wright said, urging attendees to “pay attention when you catch a scent. Be still and listen to that. Is your heart pounding? Does that scent focus your mind and make your heart race? Track that path, follow that trail. Trust your instincts, and take a leap.”
“Learning doesn’t end with a diploma”
Samuel Garza, graduating with a doctor of philosophy degree in molecular pharmacology and toxicology, and a master’s degree in regulatory science, encouraged the graduates to continue to ask themselves what they want to learn next. “As we gain knowledge, we realize the vastness of what we do not know,” said Garza, who served as 2022-23 president of the USC Graduate Student Government. “Learning doesn’t end with a diploma, and it’s our responsibility to stay curious and take ownership of our education.”
Ryan Johnstonbaugh, president of the PharmD class, acknowledged the members of the Class of 2023 who volunteered to distribute vaccines in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnstonbaugh urged graduates not to forget that they will be a role model for others. “Each of you has helped shape the environment,” he said. “We soon will be the goalposts that others try to achieve.”
Amen Obanor, who earned a bachelor of science in pharmacology and drug development, encouraged fellow graduates to reflect on the personal growth they have experienced in their journey in earning their degree. “We are all here because we had a dream to reach a goal,” said Obanor, who served as 2022-23 president of the USC Pre-Pharmacy Society. “2019 me would have been terrified to give this speech. 2023 me is still terrified, but I’m here. And that’s growth.”
191 Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
5 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics
2 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology
5 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Pharmaceutical Sciences
4 Doctor of Regulatory Science (DRSc)
13 Master of Science (MS) in Biopharmaceutical Marketing
5 Master of Science (MS) in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics
51 Master of Science (MS) in Healthcare Decision Analysis
10 Master of Science (MS) in Management of Drug Development
2 Master of Science (MS) in Medical Product Quality
12 Master of Science (MS) in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology
29 Master of Science (MS) in Pharmaceutical Sciences
3 Master of Science (MS) in Regulatory Management
43 Master of Science (MS) in Regulatory Science
19 Bachelor of Science (BS) in Pharmacology and Drug Development
1 Bachelor of Science (BS) in Biopharmaceutical Sciences
Cynthia Lieu, associate professor of clinical pharmacy, served as lead faculty marshal, guiding the procession of graduates into the venue. Terrence Graham, Richard Dang, Maryann Wu and Eunjoo Pacifici also served as marshals.
Flag and banner bearers in the processional were Shambhavi Jayant Nabar, who earned a master’s degree in regulatory science, and Kerui Peng, who graduated with a doctor of philosophy degree in clinical and experimental therapeutics and a master’s degree in regulatory management.
Richard Dang, assistant professor of clinical pharmacy and director of the school’s community-based pharmacy residencies, led the 191 new pharmacists in recitation of the Oath of a Pharmacist.
William Gong, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and director of fellowship training, recognized 31 fellows, who completed their postgraduate training. Lisa Goldstone, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and director of residency training, recognized 33 residents.
Watch the livestream of the USC Mann 116th Commencement Ceremony here.