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A bit of Commencement Ceremony history from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

graphic element for MCOM 50th anniversary.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the graduating charter class for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, we are sharing this story that looks back at the medical school’s graduations.

The first graduation ceremony for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) was 50 years ago – in December of 1974 – when the charter class received their doctoral hoods and medical diplomas.

Ceremonies for those first couple of years were held in the former Auditorium within the USF Health Sciences Center, what is now USF Health.

As classes grew, along with the desire for more family members to attend, the commencement ceremonies moved in the 1980s to the USF Sun Dome, now the Yuengling Center. But because tradition at MCOM graduation ceremonies involves students sitting on stage (versus on the floor, as typical ceremonies might be set up), the annual ceremony was moved again to venues around the Tampa Bay area that offered a large stage, such as at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa and the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Graduates from MCOM in 2007.

At the medical school’s founding, a committee was formed to set traditions and included Drs. Jack Hickman, James Ingram, and Rudolf Noer. Among their many efforts – and a tradition that has carried across the 50 years – was the Mace. As noted in the historical record for the College “Sparkling with Promise: The University of South Florida College of Medicine Celebrates 25 Years.”

Faculty member holding MCOM mace.

“…a specially designed mace to be carried and displayed during the College’s commencement exercises. The oaken beam was salvaged from the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in the historic city of St. Augustine. Historians believed the ancient, five-foot beam originated from a tree grown in Europe and had been part of the keel or rib of a sailing ship that ended up in Florida. The beam was used in 1598 to construct the first hospital built by the Spanish in North America. Upon learning of the search by the mace committee, architect Boyd Parker of St. Augustine graciously presented the beam to the College of Medicine in June 1972…” “…Stephen Estes, a graduate art student at USF, was commissioned in early 1974 to create the mace from the oak and from hand-wrought bulk silver and gold. The mace was decorated with a version of the traditional staff of Aesculapius, Greek god of medicine, with its single entwined serpent, which for centuries has symbolized medicine and wisdom, and with the seals of the University of South Florida and of its College of Medicine.”

An MCOM graduate gets his academic hood.

Fun facts:

  • In the 50 years since the first class graduated, the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine has hooded and presented MD degrees to nearly 5,100 graduates.
  • Each of first commencement ceremonies graduated about two dozen students. Today, about 180 students receive their MD degrees from MCOM each year.
  • While speakers over the years have always offered congratulations and encouragement, many from the past have shared sentiments that still ring true today:
    • In 1991, on physician burnout: Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, a surgeon from Univ of Texas Medical School in Houston and a popular television personality hosting “Texas Health Reports” In his address to the class of 1991, Dr. Duke urged the new physicians to strive for balance in their lives, saying “One of the biggest risks we all face is becoming a human doing and not a human being. It's up to you to develop yourself fully into that unique, beautiful human being that you are.”
    • In 2009, on patient safety: renowned patient safety expert Dr. Lucian Leape, who at the time was health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, is one of the founders of the National Patient Safety Foundation and an author of the landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical errors. In his address, Dr. Leape praised USF Health for having medicine, public health, nursing and physical therapy under one roof, saying that teamwork is so important that only the founding principle of the patient safety movement ranks before it.
    • In 2010, on building caring relationships with patients: Dr. Perri Klass, award-winning author of more than a dozen books, as well as frequent articles about medicine in the New York Times, and at the time was professor of journalism and pediatrics at New York University. Dr. Klass told the graduates they were entering a world where they will be central characters in the stories of other lives: those of their patients, saying “What the doctor sees is what the writer knows. That we live in a world full of stories. You are going to be so important in so many people’s lives. You are going to be so important in so many stories in the lives of so many people that you haven’t met yet.”

Some stories from past MCOM commencement ceremonies:





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About Health News

USF Health News highlights the great work of the faculty, staff and students across the four health colleges – Morsani College of Medicine, College of Public Health, College of Nursing and Taneja College of Pharmacy – and the multispecialty physicians group. USF Health, an integral part of the University of South Florida, integrates research, education and health care to reach our shared value - making life better.