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Rosalind Franklin University Returns to Chicago for 108th Commencement Ceremony

After two years of virtual and scaled-back ceremonies required by COVID-19 limitations, Rosalind Franklin University welcomed the families and friends of the Class of 2022 — along with some celebrants from the Class of 2020 — to Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago on June 3 for the university’s 108th Commencement.

Recalling the past two years as “challenging to say the least,” graduate speaker Meera Tavathia Odunewu, PA ’22, said the one word that comes to mind when she thinks of her fellow graduates is resilience.

“Many days were spent getting to know classmates and professors through Zoom, with business professional attire on top and pajama pants for bottoms,” she said. “We navigated virtual learning with endless reminders of muting your microphone, and constantly adjusting to new guidelines on whether or not we’d get our brain tickled that week from all the nasal swabs. Oftentimes, we didn’t know what the next week would bring us — masks or no masks, remote or in person — but we continued to persevere through whatever came our way.

“I believe that the future for this Class of 2022 is very bright, as the challenges we faced only made us stronger,” she added. “We stood resilient in the face of everything that was thrown our way, and this resilience is what will make us future leaders in our fields.”

Mrs. Tavathia Odunewu was one of 637 graduates honored during the ceremony, including 291 from the College of Health Professions, 204 from Chicago Medical School, 80 from the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, 58 from the College of Pharmacy and four from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Graduates from 2020 who missed a chance to cross a stage in person due to COVID restrictions were also invited to attend.

President and CEO Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM, expressed her pride in the graduates and the entire RFU community for demonstrating resolve and empathy during the ongoing pandemic. She called on the Class of 2022 to apply the lessons they learned both on and off campus to create a healthier, more equitable future.

“You represent the generation of students who succeeded against unforeseen odds to complete your education while at the same time serving your community with courage and compassion,” Dr. Rheault said. “You will now enter professions that are in urgent need of your talent, your commitment and your desire to make an impact.”

In 2020, RFU’s commencement ceremonies were conducted virtually, with prerecorded video feeds taking the place of in-person activities due to public health restrictions and related safety concerns. The 2021 ceremony also featured a virtual presentation following smaller in-person ceremonies for the individual schools. For 2022, participants and guests observed current guidance and safety protocols in gathering at the 9,500-seat arena on the campus of the University of Illinois Chicago.

Keynote speaker David A. Edwards, PhD — an aerosol scientist and biomedical engineer noted for his innovations with inhalation therapies — told the gathering that the Class of 2022 stands on a frontier in need of pioneers.

“Graduating at a time of change and challenge, as did Rosalind Franklin on receiving

her doctorate in 1945, might give many of you pause,” Dr. Edwards said. “Questions of war and peace — and for an educated woman like Dr. Franklin, of how science and technology might help us survive our worst instincts — are back, with even greater urgency. A heavy mantle of responsibility can easily diminish the light-footed sense we generally associate with joy and satisfaction.

“I’d like to suggest that the special circumstances of today not only favor successful and rewarding careers, they also actually invite us to thrive,” he added. “And that’s fortunate, because human life on the planet, and even life itself, will flourish in its future should your generation flourish in pioneering your own.”

Special guests at the ceremony included Sidharth Mahapatra, MD ’09, PhD ’07, a pediatric intensivist with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who delivered alumni remarks, and Kimberley Darey, MD ’04, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Elmhurst Hospital, who administered the Oath of Geneva.

Provost Nancy Parsley, DPM, MHPE, paid tribute to the family members and friends who helped the graduates on their educational journeys.

“While you no doubt feel great pride for all that your loved ones have accomplished, please do take a moment to acknowledge your own success, for the role you played in helping them to realize their goals,” Dr. Parsley said. “For the personal sacrifices you have made along the way and the support you have given, we thank you.”

During her remarks, Mrs. Tavathia Odunewu noted that throughout the pandemic, her fellow graduates witnessed “how important it is to have each other for support when healthcare systems are overwhelmed. As future providers, being a part of a team will be an integral aspect of taking care of a patient and each other, which will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for all.”

Posted June 3, 2022
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