It is a treasured tradition: The White Coat ceremony, an annual rite of passage, marks the beginning of a student’s journey to become a doctor of pharmacy.
For entering pharmacy students at USC Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the ceremony marked the start of their professional pharmacy education and the commitment they are making to becoming healthcare providers and improving the human condition.
The 2023 White Coat ceremony, held Friday, August 18, on Broad Lawn at the USC Health Sciences Campus, was the first time the USC Mann School—renamed in November 2022 after receiving a $50 million endowment gift—welcomed a new class of PharmD students with its new name.
Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos welcomed the Class of 2027, noting its diversity—the students were born in 19 different countries—and strong academic track record. He encouraged them to think of themselves as drivers of innovation. “Your choices are nearly endless,” he said.
“Whatever path you choose, one thing is certain—you will not be walking it alone,” Papadopoulos said. “You will always be a member of the Trojan Family, and more specifically, the Trojan Pharmacy Family.”
“The opportunities are boundless.”
“They’re embarking on a tremendous profession here today,” Popovian said in a message to parents in the audience, echoing the Dean’s remarks. “Pharmacists as professionals have never had better opportunities in healthcare than now. When I was in school, the opportunities were limited. Today, they’re boundless.”
Popovian welcomed new students to the Trojan Pharmacy Family. “The sense of family is truly a promised practice in this institution. It is passed on from one class to the other. It was passed on from the prior class to me, and we passed it onto the next generation,” he said.
Kari Franson, senior associate dean for academic and student affairs and professor of clinical pharmacy, and Steve Chen, associate dean for clinical affairs and the William A. and Josephine A. Heeres Chair in Community Pharmacy, called new students to the stage to put on their new white coats.
Paul J. Wong, assistant professor of clinical pharmacy, led new students in a recitation of the Oath of a Pharmacist.
“This is a two-way street, and I am ready to contribute.”
Michelle Hii said her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. in their twenties and became registered nurses, inspired her to pursue a career in healthcare.
“I joined the pre-pharmacy society at UCLA, and that really propelled me into pharmacy. It’s where I met my first mentor, and she’s currently at USC now as a second-year student. She inspired me and was the solidifying factor in me choosing USC,” Hii said.
“The expertise of USC Mann’s faculty and staff, combined with their commitment to helping those most in need, put USC squarely at the top of my list,” said Lukas Prelooker, a recent graduate from California Lutheran University. “This is a two-way street, and I am ready to contribute to my peers, faculty, research and to my community.”
Melissa Lewis, a graduate of Albertus Magnus College, was inspired to pursue pharmacy after witnessing a lack of access to health care in her parents’ home country of Jamaica. “I know first-hand what medical disparity looks like,” Lewis said. “My family is my backbone and having come from a close-knit community that has done so much for me and the success that I have, I want to pay it forward.”
Several students, including Philip Suhr, who was coated by his mother Sunny Suhr, PharmD ’91, were coated by family members. Suhr said it was a thrilling moment: “After years of hard work, I had a chance to celebrate on stage with my biggest supporter,” he said.
Mehedy Haseebullah Turgut was coated by his mother Tahira Haseebullah, PharmD. Behshad Aghakoocheck was coated by his brother Bahador Aghakoochek, PharmD ’22, BA ’17. Andrew George was coated by his brother George Ibrahim, PharmD ’23.
Watch the livestream recording of the White Coat Ceremony here. To welcome new students, the USC Mann Alumni Association provides funding for new white coats every year.
Jinny Kim contributed to this story.