Eighty-two members of the University of Florida’s Class of 2012 tipped their cap tassels from right to left as they accepted their DVM degrees May 26 during commencement exercises held at the UF Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Roused to a standing ovation by graduating senior Tiffany Tupler’s rendition of the National Anthem, the standing-room-only crowd settled in for the two-hour ceremony, which included welcoming remarks by Dean Glen Hoffsis, a keynote address delivered by longtime faculty member Dr. Michael Schaer and a student address by valedictorian Eric Van Eerde.
The college Alumni Council’s Distinguished Awards were also presented by Dr. Julia Conway, the council’s chairman.
Receiving the Alumni Achievement Award was Dr. Jay Coisman, a 2004 UF veterinary college graduate and a captain in the U.S. Army who presently is a small animal surgery resident at UF.
Receiving the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award was Dr. Kevin Drygas, a 2006 graduate of the UF veterinary college who at one time was featured regularly on Animal Planet’s longstanding “Emergency Vets” program. Drygas is now a staff surgeon with Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in Orange Park.
The council’s Distinguished Service Award went to former UF small animal clinical sciences department chairman, Dr. Colin Burrows. Burrows, a founder of the prestigious North American Veterinary Conference and an internationally respected leader, served the college for more than 30 years as a clinician, researcher, educator and administrator.
The Special Service Award was given to the late Dr. Kevin Anderson, who passed away in June 2010 after a long battle with brain cancer. Anderson had taught gross anatomy to 22 classes of veterinary students and received many teaching and research awards during his time at UF. He was a mentor to many students in many ways, including his efforts with the Merck Merial Summer Scholars Program and his leadership of the Team Vet Med cycling group. Accepting the award on Anderson’s behalf was his father.
In beginning his commencement address, Schaer noted that he had been asked by Dot McColskey, “AKA, Dot” – whom the students all know well, as curriculum coordinator for the Office of Students and Instruction – to deliver his keynote with “wit and cool.” However, Schaer added, “Right now, I cannot promise anything because of the prevailing emotions that can alter that objective at any time.”
He went on to recall some of his first interactions with the class, which occurred in the summer of 2009 when he and other colleagues joined the student services office and volunteers from the class of 2012 at the Freshman Orientation Leadership Experience at Camp Weed.
“This was quite an extraordinary experience, not only for the incoming freshman class of 2013, but equally as much for the members of the class of 2012, who took charge of the orientation process, where they demonstrated their high leadership skills,” he said.
He told the graduating class that no matter what direction they might choose going forward, there would be challenges to face, and new ones, both personal and professional, to confront later.
“Most of you will enter private practice, while others will continue your postgraduate education with internships and other excellent experiences,” he said. “A few will enter the military, which will take you to many different regions of the world where you will do your noble deeds.
“Some of you will end up on a career path that has nothing to do with veterinary medicine,” Schaer said. “But whatever your path is, pursue it with the same love and passion that you presently have for this profession.”
Schaer said he had confidence in the students’ “individual talents, excellent work ethic, abilities to turn lemons into lemonade and boundless energies to work through the many obstacles that line the paths before you.”
He quoted his favorite icon, Sir William Osler, a 19th century physician who brought medical teaching rounds to patients’ bedsides: “‘With half an hour’s reading in bed every night as a steady practice, the busiest person can get a fair education.’” Schaer said students should maintain their study discipline because their patients would be counting on them.
“Remember the basics, and look at your patient, for it will usually tell you what is wrong,” Schaer said. “If you don’t listen, you will never hear. If you don’t look, you will never see. And if you don’t touch, you will never feel.”
Dr. Eric Van Eerde, the class valedictorian, thanked his parents and his wife, Alice, for their support during his four years in veterinary school, and paid tribute to the late Dr. Kevin Anderson as the professor who laid the groundwork for the educational journey just completed by the class.
“I wish he were here to see us today,” Van Eerde said.
“Because of the individuals we’ve met here, we are prepared for what awaits us,” he said. “In the end, the clinicians were right: vet school came and went far too quickly.”
He urged his classmates to reflect upon how they’ve changed over the years, and said he was confident that no matter what path they chose, they would be successful.
“When I look back on our time here, and I hope the same is true for you, it will be with fondness and appreciation,” Van Eerde said.
Just prior to the degrees being conferred, Dean Hoffsis told the students they had received a first-rate veterinary education at one of the finest colleges in the world.
“Don’t get overly focused on the economy you’re entering,” he said. “Rather, keep focused on practicing your passion and on recognizing and seizing upon the opportunities that are before your very eyes. Remember that some of your best opportunities will be those that you will create yourself.”
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