Last Wednesday evening, 149 students piled into Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for NYU School of Medicine’s 178th graduation ceremony. They were clad in the university’s iconic purple gowns, but thanks to their elite status as doctoral students, they also donned dark green hoods and velvet tams. The group walked out less than two hours later medical degrees in hand, ready to treat those in need around the world.
“Know that you take with you the warmest congratulations of the entire NYU community,” President Andrew Hamilton said at the ceremony, held just a few hours after the university-wide commencement at Yankee Stadium.
He also wasted no time in bringing up the announcement earlier this year that the school would become tuition-free for all current and future students. For this year’s graduates, that meant a savings of over $50,000 per person.
“The establishment of these full-tuition scholarships is truly a game-changer not only for NYU School of Medicine and its students, but also for the medical profession more broadly,” Hamilton said.
The program was made possible largely due to a $100 million contribution from billionaire businessman Kenneth Langone, who is also the Chair of NYU Langone Health’s Board of Trustees and an alum of the Stern School of Business. The university’s hospital system was named after the philanthropist in 2008 after a $200 million donation. Langone was this year’s keynote speaker at the ceremony and was welcomed with a standing ovation from the crowd.
“[My wife Elaine and I] are proud of each and every one of you for what you’ve gone through and what you’ve accomplished, and we’re counting on each of you to go out in the world and do everything you can with your ability and with your heart to make the world a better place,” he said.
Through stories of interactions with physicians, whether they were treating his mother or his wife or just teaching at NYU, Langone emphasized the importance of compassion and empathy in medical practice.
“You have to be able to feel the pain of your patient, [even] when that patient is a pain in the ass,” he said. “Your patient is more than what you see on a computer screen. If you want to be a doctor’s doctor, you got to have heart.”
Other speakers included Dr. Anthony Grieco, Professor and Associate Dean for Alumni Relations and Academic Events; Dr. Robert Grossman, the Saul J. Ferber Dean and CEO of NYU Langone Health; and Dr. Cordelia Marcela Orillac, a graduating student who was the president of the class of 2019 and received a diploma at the university-wide commencement earlier that morning on behalf of the school.
Despite Langone’s past donations to Republicans, Grieco was not afraid to get political in his remarks. He encouraged the graduates to advocate for affordable, universal healthcare and to treat patients regardless of their backgrounds.
“You can benefit society by declaring healthcare a right for everyone, whether wealthy or poor, employed or jobless, citizen or undocumented immigrant,” he said to cheers from the audience.
Before the ceremony, WSN interviewed Dr. Emma Trawick, who was among the graduates sitting at the front of the venue. She will head to Northwestern University in Chicago to begin her OB-GYN residency this fall.
How do you feel about free tuition for one year?
One year of tuition was a huge gift for me. I relied completely on loans to finance my medical school education, and as I transition into residency and begin to plan for my future, fewer loans means more opportunity, less stress and a greater ability to give myself to my patients and mentees.
Do you have guests coming to commencement? If yes, who? What does that mean to you?
Yes, my partner, my family and my partner’s family are coming for graduation. They have carried me through the great emotional and intellectual challenges of the past four years, and I am so happy to finally be able to celebrate with them.
What does it feel like to be graduating?
Bittersweet! I am so thrilled to have completed medical school, and I am so excited for my next chapter. But NYU has been home for me — I have grown, learned and matured so much over the past four years, and my peers and mentors here have been instrumental to my transformation. I don’t know that I would ever feel truly ready to leave.
Why did you choose NYU School of Medicine?
Easy: NYU has the best patients, most committed faculty and most driven students of any medical school in the country. [NYU’s three hospitals] serve an incredibly diverse group of patients, and the patients and faculty at each institution have so much to teach. My peers have proven to be the most diverse, values-driven, brilliant colleagues I have ever had.
Why did you want to become a doctor?
I wanted to balance my passion for science and policy with my drive to serve my community. Doctors not only help individual patients day to day, but have powerful voices that can change how healthcare is delivered and how medicine is practiced. OB-GYN, my chosen field, balances incredibly personal relationships with patients with a natural drive toward advocacy: they are helping address maternal mortality and access to reproductive healthcare in the US. I cannot imagine a better job.
Do you have any advice for prospective applicants or underclassmen?
Strive to be a good person, and surround yourself with people that push you to be the strongest version of yourself. If you are applying to medical school, prove you are a committed and enriching member of your community — these are the students that make the best doctors.
In one word or phrase, describe the past four years.
Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]