UC Davis confers 114 Doctor of Medicine degrees at Commencement

The Class of 2024 entered the School of Medicine months after the coronavirus pandemic started, and bonded over the next four years


When they started medical school in mid-2020, just months after the coronavirus pandemic forced classes to meet online, students had a hard time trying to get to know each other. By the time they graduated from the UC Davis School of Medicine over the weekend, however, the new doctors had forged an unbreakable bond from their shared experience.

A young woman in a blue gown stands between a man and a woman on stage as they hold hands and raise their arms into the air
Xochitl Green celebrates with her mother Andrea and her father Jimmy at the School of Medicine Commencement Ceremony.

Perhaps Cameron Clerkley said it best when he addressed fellow graduates: “We’ve experienced both community and isolation, healing and suffering, joy and pain, literally life and death. And though we didn’t get paid for it, this unique experience has definitely prepared us to tackle any rough circumstances on this medical journey.”

He then turned to the Class of 2024 seated on stage beside him, and asked, “So, classmates, did we successfully learn medicine in a global pandemic?” The students responded in unison, “Yes we did!”

References to the coronavirus pandemic were sprinkled throughout Saturday’s 53rd Commencement Ceremony at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus, where 114 students were awarded the prefix “Dr.” before their names.

‘Determination, resilience and dedication to lives of service’

Clerkley, chosen by classmates as the student speaker, joked about his “bone to pick” with UC Davis when he pored over the medical school’s website in 2019 in preparation for his application for admission. “Nowhere did it say, FYI, you’ll be starting med school in a global pandemic and shutdown.”

He thanked parents collectively for making Costco runs for students, “because we all know, in 2020 it was harder to get toilet tissue than Beyoncé tickets.”

Interim Dean Susan Murin thanked the class for “inspiring us with determination, resilience and dedication to lives of service.” She also acknowledged students for their endurance.

“Your class met and overcame myriad challenges. Not only in your paths to medical school, but throughout the last four years of your medical training,” she said. “You persevered, adapted and thrived amidst a pandemic and contentious and heartbreaking times in our society and worldwide.”

Murin said she was “delighted” that 81% of the graduates will stay in California for their residency training “to continue serving our diverse communities.” She added that she was “thrilled” that a quarter of the graduates will stay at UC Davis Health for residency.

The keynote speech was delivered by Monica Soni, medical director for Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace.

Soni, an internal medicine specialist, encouraged graduates to have an open mind, listen to the opinions of others and be comfortable if they don’t have all the answers. “Certainty doesn’t save lives, curiosity does.”

Feedback, even if it’s critical, can get doctors to see “the full picture, identifying your blind spots and areas for growth.”  She added: “Humility and curiosity are what make an expert.”

Soni concluded by asking students to repeat phrases:

I trust my abilities.
I have everything I need to succeed.
I am a darn good doctor.
I have the power to make a difference.
I will bring love to all I do.

Students walk across the stage with their closest supporters

As is UC Davis School of Medicine tradition, each student was recognized in a personal way: Their name was announced as they walked across the stage, hand-in-hand with their parents, children, spouses or other supporters who clearly understood the sacrifices of the past four years, and more.

A young woman in a blue gown kisses the cheek of a woman in a wheelchair, surrounded by three men who are standing
Jamie Yang kisses her mother Zoua Hang on stage at Commencement, surrounded by Associate Dean Sharad Jain, left; Yang’s husband, Aaron Lee, center; and Yang’s father, Xao Yang.

Some of the parents on stage placed the green and gold graduation hoods over the students’ blue robes. Others chose to be hooded by Associate Dean for Students Sharad Jain.

Immediately after student Jamie Yang was hooded by Jain, she stooped down to her mom, Zoua Hang, who was seated in a wheelchair, and kissed her on the cheek. She then embraced her husband Aaron Lee. She hugged her father, Xao Yang. Yang’s parents, who are Hmong, fled Laos on foot after the Secret War, which inspired Yang to make the most of their sacrifices.

“From walking as refugees to walking across the stage as proud immigrants, they achieved the American dream through their daughter's success,” Yang said after graduation.

In less than two months, Yang will take the next step in her journey to becoming a board-certified family medicine specialist, a three-year process. She will be assigned to patients at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento.

The family medicine specialty, she said, “lets me treat anyone who walks through the door.” And the diversity of the Sacramento region’s population, she added, is “perfect” for her training.

What’s more: “Being just an hour from my family is vital for my well-being.”

And most likely for her parents’ too.