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KU Medical Center Class of 2023 celebrates graduation under sunnier skies

The University of Kansas schools of Health Professions, Medicine and Nursing honored students who weathered pandemic challenges and graduated only days after the COVID-19 public health emergency was lifted.

Dean Sally Maliski shakes the hand of a graduating student on stage
Dean Sally Maliski, left, extends her congratulations at the nursing recognition ceremony May 13. The University of Kansas School of Nursing Class of 2023 included 263 students. Photos by KU Medical Center Photo Services

The mood was bright, the weather was sunny and the masks were entirely optional for the 2023 graduation ceremonies at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Friends and family members of the Class of 2023 gathered in person May 13 for hooding and recognition ceremonies at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. The face-to-face festivities for the schools of Health Professions, Medicine and Nursing at the University of Kansas were a return to a pre-COVID tradition that was canceled in 2020, held online only in 2021 and then re-established in 2022.

But unlike pre-pandemic days, the ceremonies continued to be telecast via the video conferencing software Zoom, allowing loved ones to tune in regardless of where they were located that Saturday. (For more details on the livestream and links to the videos of the ceremonies, visit “Celebrating via video” at the end of this story.)

Sunny weather also held on for the commencement ceremony in Lawrence on May 14. The sun shone down on graduates and other attendees in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, a welcome change from commencement in 2021 and 2022 when rain and thunderstorms dampened the big day.

Praise and perspective

On May 13, Robert D. Simari, M.D., executive vice chancellor for KU Medical Center, congratulated the newest Jayhawk alumni at each recognition ceremony. “Suffice it to say this has been an unusual academic journey,” he said. “But you have demonstrated that a global pandemic could not stop you from making it to this day and launching your career.”

Abiodun Akinwuntan shakes the hand of a graduating student on stage
Dean Abiodun Akinwuntan, left, shakes hands with a
graduate during the 2023 recognition ceremony. The
University of Kansas School of Health Professions
celebrated 323 students who earned either a certificate,
undergraduate or graduate degree.

For some graduates, their time at KU Medical Center consisted of before, during and after the pandemic. The medical students in the Class of 2023 began their first year of medical school in a world before lockdown. In their fourth and final year, they graduated only three days after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

For other graduates, such as students earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (KU School of Nursing) or Respiratory Care (School of Health Professions), their academic path at KU Medical Center began at the height of the pandemic in 2021. They then managed classroom and clinical experiences around pandemic precautions.

“You enter the health care world at an exciting and uncertain time,” said Sally L. Maliski, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, executive dean of KU School of Nursing. “Critical thinking and creativity are the most important skills in order to adapt to a health care system that is in flux. As such, you have an opportunity to create a greater impact than ever before.”

Sharing and connecting
Graduating students wearing regalia walk out of a building
Graduates from the University of Kansas School of Medicine
Class of 2023 were all smiles outside the recognition and
hooding ceremonies. The school graduated 310 students,
including 202 who completed their M.D. and 108 with either
a master’s degree or Ph.D.

At the ceremony for KU School of Health Professions graduates, Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, MBA, dean of KU School of Health Professions, shared a heartfelt personal story about the support he received from a beloved mentor. He encouraged others to live by that example.

“I encourage you to become generous and compassionate practitioners. Pay it forward by offering others not just the best of the skills that you have learned, but also generously offering your time, empathy, compassion, and mentoring your junior colleagues,” Akinwuntan said.

Later that afternoon at the KU School of Medicine ceremony, Akinlolu Ojo, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, MPH, executive dean of KU School of Medicine, urged the new graduates to stay connected to their alma mater.

“We are proud that we have been a part of your professional journey,” he said. “It is with that same sense of pride that we look forward to your future accomplishments in research, health care, education and service.”

Celebrating via video

Who tunes in to celebrate KU Medical Center recognition ceremonies via Zoom? KU Medical Center’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) department, which handles the recording of KU Medical Center events and classroom technology, reported that 793 total users tuned into at least one of the three 2023 recognition ceremonies.

And use of the worldwide web to stream the video meant the world could attend. Here’s a breakdown of international views and a link to a recording of each ceremony:

TLT began videocasting all three recognition ceremonies in 2019. It presented a pared-down, live-stream-only broadcast in 2020 and another virtual-only ceremony in 2021 that this time had more production value. In the last two years, TLT has filmed the event live at Memorial Hall and streamed it to a global audience.  

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