June 07, 2012
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
“Historic” and “purposeful,” “ironic” and “fortuitous” could describe the 2012 graduation ceremonies for the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, held June 2 on the Watts campus.
The university’s 28th commencement ceremony saw its first graduating class of the Mervyn Dymally School of Nursing, with the Master of Science degree conferred on 163 graduates, while the university overall conferred certificates and degrees on a total of 252 students, the largest in the school’s history.
While Drew’s mission was reiterated by both University President Dr. David Carlisle and Board of Trustees President James Lott, Jose Robert Gaticales, commencement speaker representing the class of the College of Nursing summed it up nicely by reminding his fellow graduates of their charge once they physically leave the university: He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Every [person] must decide whether to walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? When we set foot in this institution, we have already embraced that altruistic ideal,” he said.
The ceremony was punctuated early on by the wail of fire and paramedic sirens, a testament to the reality of Drew’s location in the heart of urban Los Angeles and a reminder to all in attendance of the critical work that the university does. Ironically yet fortuitously, one of those ambulance calls was for the commencement itself, as some members of the faculty and administration were pressed into actual service when the Honorable Mervyn Dymally, former California State lieutenant governor, state congressman and namesake of the College of Nursing, became ill and collapsed onstage due to heat exhaustion.
Board President James Lott requested that all remain calm, since Rep. Dymally was “in the best of hands” and assured the attendees that Dymally’s first words were “I want to get back to the graduation!”
Attendees were reminded by commencement speaker Tiffany Turner that quality health care is not limited to the hands-on healing work that physicians and nurses do. Turner, who received her post-baccalaurate certificate from Drew’s College of Science and Health, originally came to the school wanting to be a doctor but that changed once she finished her internship. It was then that she says she “realized that we need more people in policy and administration rather than physicians.”
Originally from San Diego, Turner received her undergraduate degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and said she came to Drew because she “wanted to be a child psychiatrist because a lot of African American children [are] put on Ritalin and Adderall and told that they have ADHD, and I was like, No … It can’t be that all these Black kids are crazy. So I looked into it, and a lot of times it’s a cultural difference …”.
Turner says she realized that the answer to many of the ills she was seeing were in policy, and that’s when she decided to shift her focus. She is considering attending Chapman University in Orange County for both master’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public health degrees to further her vision.
Also as part of the 2012 commencement ceremonies, several key individuals were honored for their support of the university in its mission to transform the health of underserved communities. The commencement speaker, Los Angeles County 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, was presented with The President’s Medal, which “recognizes extraordinary and unique service” rendered to the university.
John Ruffin, the director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, was presented with the Charles R. Drew University Medal of Honor, the highest honor that the university’s Board of Trustees bestows for best exemplifying the spirit the university’s mission to “serve the underserved with excellence and compassion.” Ruffin has dedicated his research to medically underserved populations and supports programs to increase minority health professionals.
The Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters was presented to Dr. Sidney McNairy, an award-winning academician and an administrator with the National Institutes of Health in honor of his being “the driving force behind the success of a number of innovative programs that strengthened the biomedical research infrastructure at both emerging and research-intensive institutions throughout the nation.”