UAMS Celebrates Underrepresented Students at Virtual Graduation Event

By Spencer Watson

The event spotlighted nearly 140 graduates from across all five UAMS colleges and the graduate school, who overcame pandemic conditions and social unrest on their path to graduation as part of the Class of 2021.

Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA

Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA

“I have long said that diversity is our superpower at UAMS, and you are all part of that superpower,” said Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, UAMS chancellor and CEO of UAMS Health. “Don’t let distance become a weakness to that superpower. As this Class of 2021 now drifts apart, each going his or her own way, don’t let that separation stop you from being heroes — because that’s what you are.”

In welcoming graduates, UAMS leadership, campus community members and families, event host Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D., MBA, executive director of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, praised the students for their tenacity and innovation.

“Congratulations to our class, because you have ‘it,’” she said. “And ‘it’ is the grit and resilience to do great things. To impact lives across the country and the world. You are creating your legacy, and every life you touch will be part of that legacy.”

Graduates were also congratulated with messages from Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, provost and chief strategy officer, though technical difficulties interrupted her address. Erick Messias, M.D., Ph.D., also presented a recorded message in Spanish.

In addition to messages from each of the university’s deans, the program also included recorded words of advice, congratulations and welcome from national leaders across a broad range of health care professions. These included Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association; Raquel Arias, M.D., MPH, professor and associate dean of admissions at the University of Southern California; Ryan Marable, Pharm.D., president of the National Pharmaceutical Association; Mary Simmons, Ph.D., MPH, president of the National Society of Allied Health; and Joycelyn Elders, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General and professor emerita at UAMS.

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, UAMS vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, presented the keynote address, contrasting the uncertainty and doubt of the past year with the certainty of potential to come.

“Each of you is now well qualified and trained for the field that awaits you, the business of healing, the business of saving lives, of providing chances to others who, at the time when they meet you, will likely be asking themselves — and you — ‘why me?’” he said.

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA

“For many of you here today, your challenges did not begin with COVID-19,” Gittens added. “They began before you inhaled your first breath of life, predetermined by longstanding systems and circumstances that sought to define and classify you, so that today you are called quote underrepresented minority students. We’re not minorities, we’ve been minoritized. You’ve been battling those circumstances your whole life, and guess what — you’ve been overcoming them. Now is the time to be not underrepresented, but to represent. Go. Achieve — with all eyes upon you.”

“You graduated in the midst of a global pandemic, racial reckoning, increased xenophobia and a world experiencing the shared grief of so much unimaginable loss,” he said. “Through it all — You. Made. It. Today, we celebrate each of you. And I can tell you with certainty that, individually and collectively, nothing will stop you now, and that the world needs you, now more than ever.”

Rodney Block

Rodney Block

Following videos from a few of the graduates reflecting on their experiences at UAMS, special guest musician Rodney Block offered a performance in harmony with the theme — “Lean on Me,” which elicited a singalong from participants.

Closing out the event, Richard-Davis invited attending graduates into different breakout rooms for different specialties as a scrolling list displayed their names.

“Before you leave, I just want to say again, congratulations to all our graduates. You’ve really stayed the course and built resilience through it all, and arrived here with hard-earned lessons that will continue to serve you for life,” said Richard-Davis. “I hope that you carry forth cherished memories, and remember us here at UAMS. You are alums now and will forever be part of the UAMS family.”