Be bold, Class of 2023 is urged at White Coat Ceremony

Members of the Pharm.D. Class of 2023 recite the student pharmacist’s oath at their White Coat Ceremony. (Photo: Johnny Nguyen)

Greg Weatherford
VCU School of Pharmacy

Be fearless. 

That’s the message keynote speaker Michelle Thomas, Pharm.D., gave the VCU School of Pharmacy Class of 2023 and assembled friends, family and fellow classmates. 

They gathered Saturday, Sept. 28, at St. Paul’s Baptist in Henrico County to celebrate the White Coat Ceremony for VCU School of Pharmacy’s latest Pharm.D class. 

To the strains of a Holst march, the Class of 2023 entered the cavernous auditorium as family members stood proudly, cameras aloft to capture the moment. 

Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the school and Archie O. McCalley chair, reminded the audience of the purpose of the ceremony. “This is an important event for us,” he said. “This ceremony serves as a formal public commitment and affirmation that these students accept their responsibility as pharmacists.”

The white coat represents many virtues including trust, compassion, integrity and altruism, DiPiro added. In accepting it, “you are committing to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior. … Pharmacy is one of the most highly respected professions. Society will look to you as leaders.” 

In her keynote, Thomas, who recently finished her term as president of the VIrginia Pharmacists Association, drew from her own life to illustrate times she had pursued her path bravely — and times she had not.

A screen shows a woman speaking into a microphone. Behind the screen people sit in an auditorium.
“My greatest challenge was to have the courage to chart the course of my own success.,” keynote speaker Michelle Thomas, Pharm.D., told the Class of 2023.

Interweaving snippets from the Sara Bareilles song “Brave,” Thomas encouraged the students to pursue three types of courage: “‘try’ courage,” “‘tell’ courage” and “‘trust’ courage.” 

Thomas is a graduate of University of Kentucky’s pharmacy school and the daughter of MCV alumnus Dan Herbert (’66/Pharmacy), who founded Bremo Pharmacy in 1976. 

When she was in pharmacy school, Thomas said, she worried about remembering the many facts required by her studies. 

“What I didn’t realize,” she continued, “was that facts weren’t the most important aspect of success. My greatest challenge was to have the courage to chart the course of my own success.” 

To illustrate “‘try’ courage,” Thomas relayed the story of how she decided to leave retail pharmacy, where she had a good job and a family legacy, to invent and pursue a position as pharmacist as part of a medical practice. She now is pharmacist practitioner at Chickahominy Family Practice. 

“‘Tell’ courage,” Thomas said, is the bravery to speak truthfully and directly, even at the risk of embarrassing yourself or offending others. “I still struggle with this one,” she acknowledged. 

“‘Trust’ courage” — the acceptance that not everything is possible to control — was the third kind of bravery Thomas cited. 

She recalled times when she had fallen short of the compassion and empathy for her patients that she wanted to embody. “Be brave enough to notice and acknowledge shame, pain and sorrow in others,” Thomas added. “Let them see the bright, shining part of you.” 

And Thomas reminded listeners that discouragement is inevitable and encouraged them to find opportunities for positive experiences that can drown out the ones that make us discouraged. 

One by one, from Acors to Zeidan, members of the Class of 2023 were called to the stage to receive their white coats, the symbols of the profession of pharmacy. The white coats’ cost was supported in part by donations from alumni John Beckner (’78/Pharmacy) and Pam Beckner (’83/MSW).

A crowd in auditorium seats.
Faculty, family and friends attended the ceremony. (Photo: Johnny Nguyen)

The Pharm.D. class of 2023 comprises 103 students — 74 women and 29 men. Their ages range from 19 to 37, with an average age of 23. 

About 8 out of 10 call Virginia home; the same proportion attended college in the commonwealth, with the largest number — 34 — having earned an undergraduate degree from VCU. Virginia Tech graduates made up the second-largest share of in-state graduates, with 18. Four members of the class began pharmacy school without baccalaureate degrees.

They were greeted by Dean DiPiro and assisted into their white coats by 2019 Teacher of the Year Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science. 

Dan Buth, student body president and a member of the Class of 2021, led the newly coated pharmacy students in the oath of a student pharmacist. 

The vaulted auditorium rang with applause as faculty, family and fellow students rose to officially welcome the Class of 2023 to the profession of pharmacy. 

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