Tradition Triumphs as Purdue and PVM Host Virtual Commencement Ceremonies

Friday, May 22, 2020

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Life is unpredictable, as we have been so starkly reminded in the past few months.  But when the COVID-19 pandemic began to obliterate plans for long-held spring-time traditions, especially graduation ceremonies, we all had a chance to realize anew that the success which earns true respect does not flow from an absence of change, but from the character, tenacity, and persistence required to meld change into new opportunity.  So, as Purdue University and the College of Veterinary Medicine recognized that there was no way to safely conduct in-person May commencement exercises, teams set about planning something unprecedented – graduation ceremonies in the realm of virtual reality.

As a professional degree granting institution, the College of Veterinary Medicine has a long tradition of conducting an Oath Ceremony where its graduates officially recite their respective oaths as veterinarians and veterinary nurses.  Normally held in the Purdue Memorial Union Ballrooms, the program features all the appropriate regalia and speeches, including remarks from Dean Willie Reed, class responders and representatives of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association and Indiana Veterinary Technician Association.  This year, thanks to the work of a dedicated team of faculty and staff, and the help of Purdue’s Hall of Music Productions, all of those elements came to life virtually.

At 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, the 2020 PVM Graduation Celebration commenced, with hundreds of computers logged-in as the event was streamed via Facebook Live.  Hours of behind-the-scenes work and recording sessions in the Elliott Hall of Music were transformed into a stunning ceremony that began with Dean Reed greeting the virtual audience of graduates and their families and loved ones.  “During this unprecedented time in our world, our country, and on college campuses across the nation, we at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine wanted to be sure to still mark this wonderful graduation day, and celebrate this amazing milestone in the lives of our students,” Dean Reed said.  “Albeit from our homes instead of in person, this virtual Graduation Celebration provides a special opportunity to continue a long-held and beloved tradition of our college.”

A screenshot of Rachel giving the class response
Rachel Tonne, BS, RVT, speaks as the Class Responder for the Veterinary Nursing Class of 2020.

The program continued with words of commendation in the form of recorded messages from the president of the IVMA, Dr. Aaron Smiley, chief of staff at the Devonshire Veterinary Clinic in Anderson, Ind. and the Geist Station Animal Hospital in Indianapolis; and president of the IVTA Courtney Waxman, a registered veterinary technician and certified Veterinary Technician Specialist in Emergency and Critical Care who serves as PVM distance learning instructional technologist.  Then Dean Reed introduced the class responder for the veterinary nursing graduates, Rachel Tonne, BS, RVT, of Carmel, Ind.

“I understand that this is not how many of us thought commencement would look four years ago,” Rachel said.  “But I am confident that we can still celebrate our accomplishments as students.” Remarking on the power of the friendships formed during college, Rachel shared, “Those friends who helped you when you were stressing before an exam –  they will help you through a pandemic, too.”  Referring to both the graduates of the on-campus Veterinary Nursing Program and the Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program, she continued, “You have worked hard to get where you are now.  You have spent hours studying and forming relationships with people who would help you through difficult times. You relied on friends, family, faculty and staff, doctors and technicians, all of whom deserve our thanks.  And as we step into the world as graduates, may we never forget those friendships which helped us to where we are now.”

All of the veterinary nursing and DVM graduates were prepared for the virtual program with the help of a commencement package that was sent to them ahead of time, containing everything needed for the celebration, including memorabilia and even sparkling cider for a toast at the end.  As the graduates watched the proceedings with their families and loved ones, they were able to replicate in their homes the ceremonial recognition that otherwise would have been conferred at the event.

A screenshot of Dean Reed applying the pin
Dean Reed virtually applies the Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Nursing pin to graduate Bayli Grubb.

As the program continued, Dean Reed conducted the pinning ceremony for the veterinary nursing graduates.  “This pin symbolizes the graduates’ entry into the veterinary nursing profession,” Dean Reed explained.  He noted that associate degree graduates from AVMA-accredited programs are eligible to become registered veterinary technicians upon passing the Veterinary Technician National Examination.  Students who complete an additional two years of education, in which they learn and develop a deeper understanding of veterinary medical related diseases, diagnostics, advanced nursing skills, and team management skills, earn the Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Nursing degree.

As the names of the associate’s and then bachelor’s degree graduates were read, and with the help of the marvels of technology, Dean Reed virtually-applied each pin to each graduate while their likeness was displayed on the screen.  Simultaneously, each graduate had a special family member or other loved one do the same in person at their home, using the pin they received in their graduation package.

Then, Dean Reed called on all of the veterinary nursing graduates as well as all of the veterinary nurses who joined the ceremony virtually to stand and recite the Veterinary Technician Oath.  “The oath signifies our high regard for the ethical standards and legal regulations governing the practice of veterinary nursing, our strong commitment to the highest standards of patient care and client service, and our dedication to the animals that we serve,” Dean Reed explained.  He then introduced Dr. Mindy Anderson, a veterinary nurse and a Doctor of Pharmacy, who is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences and an instructor in the Veterinary Nursing Program.  Dr. Anderson was selected by the veterinary nursing students to lead them in reciting the Veterinary Technician Oath of Ethical Conduct, symbolizing their acceptance into the veterinary nursing profession.

A screenshot of Dean Reed virtuallly hooding Dr. Evans
Dr. Destiny Evans is virtually-hooded by Dean Willie Reed.

Next Dean Reed turned his attention to the DVM graduates. “Four years ago, you were welcomed into the Purdue University DVM Program. Today the Class of 2020 becomes the 58th Purdue DVM class to celebrate commencement and take the Veterinarians’ Oath,” Dean Reed noted.  “I also want to thank you for the significant role your class has played as active participants in the life of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.  Through your own personal commitment and hard work, and your willingness to work together and pursue goals beyond individual success, you have accomplished much.”

“I especially want to commend you for the way in which you adapted as our world changed immensely in just the last few months,” Dean Reed continued.  “As our faculty, staff, and administration worked mightily to make necessary adjustments in the interests of everyone’s health and safety, adopting different modes of teaching and learning, you persevered, and ‘finished the course.’  Not only is this graduation ceremony the first we have ever done virtually, you are the first Purdue Veterinary Medicine class to finish your education in the midst of such extraordinary circumstances.  You have lived through an unprecedented time in our college, and your achievement is also unprecedented!  We greatly appreciate your adaptability, courage, and perseverance.”

A screenshot of Dean Reed holding up a glass to toast
Dean Willie Reed raised a toast of sparkling cider on screen as graduates and their families did the same in their homes to conclude the virtual PVM Graduation Celebration.

The class response came from Dr. Kylie Roman, who is originally from Fishers, Ind. and moved with her husband to Minnesota prior to starting veterinary school. “You will likely never find a class with the experiences that we have had,” Dr. Roman said, speaking on behalf of her classmates.  Recalling a variety of firsts and lasts that distinguished the class, from being the last class to leave before the first brick of the new veterinary hospital is laid, and being the first to complete its clinical year during a pandemic, trading-in live clinics for Zoom clinics online, Dr. Roman said it is perhaps most fitting that her class also is the first to have an online graduation ceremony.  “I truly think that we got some extra preparation for obstacles in our future.  If we can survive these last four years together, I have no doubt in my mind that we can survive all the obstacles to come in the future,” Dr. Roman said.  While acknowledging that leaving without being able to say a proper goodbye to those who supported them as well as each other is heart wrenching, Dr. Roman also expressed appreciation for all the clinicians, professors, veterinary nurses, administrative and support staff, counselors, and the college in general who made this all possible.  “Thank you for the memories.  Thank you for the support.  And thank you for our future.”

What followed was another first, as Dean Reed conducted a virtual hooding ceremony.  With the aid of technology and careful video editing, Dean Reed virtually-applied the DVM hood to each of the DVM graduates as their names were read and their likeness appeared on the screen.  Simultaneously, a special family member or other loved one did the same in person at home, using the hood shipped to each graduate in their graduation package.

Words of congratulations from family, loved ones, faculty, and staff flowed across the Facebook Live chat window as the ceremony progressed.  Then Dean Reed invited all the DVM graduates along with all other veterinarians participating in the virtual ceremony to stand and recite the Veterinarian’s Oath as a solemn promise to serve the animal kingdom and society.

Colleeen stands in front of the Continuum sculpture wearing her graduation regalia
Purdue DVM Class of 2020 member, Colleen Bailey, paused for a photo op on campus after celebrating commencement with her family who came from western New York to help her complete her move-out.

Also during the program, graduates who won awards were recognized as their names and the awards they received were scrolled across the screen.  Since typically the awards would have been presented at the Graduation Gala the evening before commencement, arrangements were made to fold that recognition into the Facebook Live Graduation Celebration.  Additionally, several college faculty, residents, and interns, were honored with awards recognizing the impact they have had on the graduates and the patients they worked with during their fourth year.  (Click here to view related story).

The Graduation Celebration concluded with a celebratory toast, led by Dean Reed and joined by the graduates who all had received a bottle of sparkling cider in their graduation packages from the college.  “We wanted to add an extra special ingredient to our program today, to add a dimension of reality to our virtual ceremony,” Dean Reed said as he raised his glass on screen.  “I invite everyone gathered for this very important day in the lives of our newest graduates to please raise a toast to our graduates.”  The program concluded with an opportunity for all the participants to stand and sing along with a recording of Hail Purdue!”  Participation in the Facebook Live event peaked with 540 viewing accounts logged-on, and multiple people typically watching on each account.  Congratulations PVM Class of 2020! And thank you to all the faculty and staff who organized PVM’s first-of-its-kind virtual commencement!

Click here to view the complete virtual ceremony.

Writer(s): Kevin Doerr |

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