A female medical student in blue gown and cap gestures to supporters in the audience of Mondavi Center during Commencement 2022

School of Medicine commencement ceremony is Saturday

New doctors will take lessons of COVID-19 pandemic into their residencies


They were finally settling in as first-year students at the UC Davis School of Medicine when their lives and educations were upended by the coronavirus in early 2020. On Saturday, they will graduate as doctors, taking the life lessons of the pandemic with them. 

The 108 members of the Class of 2023 will receive their Doctor of Medicine degrees at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Attendance is limited to people who receive tickets from graduates, but the 10 a.m. ceremony will be livestreamed

In addition, a posthumous degree will be awarded to the family of Joshua Crane, a fourth-year student and U.S. Navy veteran who perished in the American River last July while saving two rafters. 

Medical student Brandon Coleman in white coat is flanked by his father and mother, standing in the courtyard at UC Davis Health
Brandon Coleman, shown with father Ronnie and mother Charmaine at the 2019 UC Davis medical school induction ceremony, will graduate Saturday

The graduating students entered medical school in the summer of 2019. But just weeks before their school year ended, everything changed. The coronavirus disrupted their education, forcing them to stay home, watch as many as seven hours of daily lectures online and eliminating any opportunities to practice physical exams. 

They were in the thick of a global pandemic that has claimed nearly 7 million lives. And they were among the first people in the world to roll up their sleeves to be immunized against COVID-19 when the newly developed vaccines arrived at UC Davis Health in December 2020. 

“It was a rough time,” said Brandon Coleman, who graduates Saturday. 

“Medical school in general is challenging, and now you go from actually having your support system, your classmates you see every day in class, to going all virtual on Zoom,” he recalled. 

Yet, two good things came out of the pandemic, he said. 

Eventually, Coleman was able to resume care at the student-run Imani Clinic by teaching his under-resourced patients how to log into Zoom for their appointments. And he was able to move back home to Vallejo, to rejoin his mother, a bus driver, and his father, a truck driver, who were also quarantined. 

Keynote address will urge graduates to speak out for injustices

The commencement speaker is Hendry Ton, a UC Davis Health psychiatrist and expert on cultural competence who has forged a close connection to the students. 

“The Class of 2023 has a special place in my heart,” Ton said. “I became the permanent associate vice chancellor for health equity, diversity and inclusion when they were in their first year. My choice to apply for the position was inspired in no small part by the students of this class.” 

Ton said he and the students have grown together “during these heartfelt years.” 

His speech will encourage students to remember and tell stories about their experiences in medical school. He will remind students that, when they begin their work as residents next month, they will have an enormous responsibility to care for their own patients. He will urge graduates to call out injustices and give a voice to communities that need to be heard. 

And he will invoke the memories created by COVID-19, when students feared for the health and safety of their loved ones. “Live your life as if this was your last day,” he said he will tell the class, “but also as if it were the first day for those you love.”