In my five years at P&S, I have witnessed a number of traditions. Among the special events I have been privileged to observe are the White Coat Ceremony, in which the medical students begin donning a uniform that helps define their identity; the John Wood Memorial Rugby Tournament, a match held in memory of a 1976 P&S graduate who was murdered during his residency; and Supernight, a party and performance the night before Match Day, the day students learn where they will spend their residencies. Each student also has his or her own unique milestones that define four or more years of study and recreation. But all roads lead to Graduation Day.
On May 22, at approximately 2:20 p.m., I plan to observe my own little graduation day tradition. Tucked between the Security Office and the chapel entrance in the Presbyterian Hospital building, and ignoring the frowns of the guard on duty, I will watch members of this year's medical school class march down the hall and out into the garden to receive their degrees. I will see each face up close, and, in that moment, say my own private goodbye to the students I have come to know and love over the past four years.
As the coordinator of the P&S Club, the extra-curricular activities organization for the medical school, I enjoy a unique relationship with the students. Neither faculty nor a member of the dean's office, I get to know and work with these bright young people in creative and, for the most part, non-academic ways while they are here. On a given day we may plan a formal dance for 300, budget the fall musical, design a new fund appeal brochure, order equipment for the Free Weight Club, and arrange to have a piano tuner come before that evening's concert. Approximately one-third of this year's graduating class has been actively involved in P&S Club leadership, with many more participating in the specific events we sponsor. As a result, I get to know the person behind the doctor-to-be, and watch his or her extraordinary development from an incoming student to a graduate.
Last year was my first experience saying goodbye to students I had known throughout all four years of their medical school. From Orientation Week to Match Day, I had celebrated their achievements and suffered their losses. But I did not realize how much students touched my life until I saw the face of Steve Antone '01, first in the alphabet, marching toward the garden. I burst into tears.
Memories of him and others in that class also now fill my mind: students on peds rotations sitting on my office floor evaluating my twin toddlers' development; moments of elation or distress from a student's first time on the wards; debating the pros and cons of various specialties and residency programs; deciding whether to take time off; mourning the death of a classmate; rejoicing in the safe birth of another classmate's child.
I am certain I share the mixed feelings of loss and joy with those who work with the students of all the other Health Sciences schoolspublic health, nursing, and dental and oral surgery. We witness an extraordinary individual formation process and, just as it peaks, we must let go. Because of Sept. 11, this past academic year in particular has been a time of shared sorrow, reflection, and hope. As I watch this gifted and compassionate class process past the chapel and into the garden, my tears will be tears of gratitude for the opportunity to have known them and for the healing work they have been called to perform in a world that truly needs them.
Kate Malin-Smith is the administrative coordinator for the P&S Club.