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The Class of 2024, standing on risers, pose for a celebratory photo before the VCU School of Pharmacy Hooding and Diploma Ceremony.

More than 500 family members, friends and loved ones joined faculty and staff of VCU School of Pharmacy to celebrate the school’s more than 100 graduating students at the 2024 Hooding and Diploma Ceremony on May 10.

[Note: Full list of awards can be found below.]

“Speaking for all the faculty and staff, it has been our privilege to have had you as students, and now I am pleased to call you my colleagues,” Dean Kelechi C. Ogbonna, Pharm.D., MSHA, told the crowd filling the spacious auditorium of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Henrico County, and many more who were participating via an online livestream. “Your success is our success, and I know our faculty and staff will be rooting for you in the years ahead.”

Dean Ogbonna reflected on students’ tenacity in the face of adversity and reminded the class that “today is affirmation of not only your grit and determination, but your courage to continue when it mattered most.”

Mohammed AlAwadh, Ph.D., selected by his classmates to make the Class of 2024 graduate student address, raised a similar theme of courage in the face of adversity in his speech to the graduates.

“As pharmacists and scientists, we share an extraordinary responsibility toward moving human progress forward – whether at the laboratory bench or patient bedside,” AlAwadh said. “Our distinctive privilege is being able to translate fundamental revelations in the biological realm into social impact through medicine. I can promise you that the intellectual humility this demands can shape your character as deeply as any professional success earned through your expertise.

“Cherish the precious moments spent pursuing your passion, no matter how hard the path seems. The long hours will all be worth it when you witness the power of knowledge and human creativity to save a life, soothe unbearable pain or brighten the human condition. That incredible feeling is the ultimate reward.”

Amir Behdani, who delivered the Class of 2024 Pharm.D. address, talked about the Class of 2024’s unique journey of getting to know one another, from “awkward Zoom conversations” to becoming a family, and how it will serve them in their next phase of life.

“I know this is a commencement. I now know this is a ‘new beginning.’ And I know starting tomorrow, a lot of us will relocate to different parts of the country to pursue our dreams,” Behdani said. “But I also know when we come back in 5, 10, 15 years from now for pharmacy reunions, it’s going to feel like we never left. Because we are the COVID class. We never needed to see each other in person every day to form this bond. And now that we have this bond, we’re going to stay in touch. We’re going to stay connected. We’re going to be there for each other every step of the way because we are a family and that’s what families do.”

As part of the ceremony, Dean Ogbonna presented Behdani, whose development of Pharmacists for Digital Health has been replicated in student organizations across the country, and classmate Camille Schrier, who served as Miss America 2020, with the school’s Dean’s Award. This award, sponsored by The Rosenthal Foundation in honor of former Dean John Ruggerio, recognizes a student who has demonstrated consistent outstanding achievement and unselfish devotion to their class, school, university and profession throughout their four years of study.

Keynote speaker Joseph DiPiro, Pharm.D., associate vice president for faculty affairs in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences who served as dean of the school from 2014-2022, shared three pieces of advice for the newest graduates to carry with them:

  • Discover what you’re good at. Explore starting after graduation. “Most people only have a faint idea of what they’re capable of accomplishing during their careers. Don’t underestimate yourself by thinking at this stage what your full potential is or what you’re capable of.”
  • Work smart. “People often talk about working hard as a way to success, but it’s really about working smart – having the greatest impact in the limited time that you have available.”
  • Be persistent to make changes that you would like to see. “Persistence is patience with focus and commitment to a cause. What do you value highly enough in health care or society that you would commit to it for the years ahead? I don’t believe in overnight success in our field, but regularly making incremental progress over time can bring you a long way.”

A full list of Pharm.D. Class of 2024 awards, Graduate Student awards, Outstanding Preceptor of the Year and Teacher of the Year awards can be found below.


  • Outstanding Patient Care Award: Caitlyn Cason
  • Patient Counseling Award: Madison Noble
  • Award of Excellence in Pharmacy Communications: Tayana Cuffee
  • Research Excellence Award: Jessica Lai
  • Emswiller Award for Leadership Achievement: Maria El-Azzi
  • Outstanding Leadership Award: Madison Puryear
  • Community Practice Achievement Award: Natacha Rangel-Ribeiro
  • Technology Excellence Award: Emily Ko
  • Distinguished Service Award: Sebastian Jaques Garcia
  • Professionalism Award: Ryan Masak
  • Excellence in Advocacy and Health Policy: Paige Nichols
  • Excellence in the Promotion of Pharmacy: Hannah Reynolds
  • Award for Excellence in Public Health: Sarah Gillaspie
  • Community Engagement Excellence Award: Katherine Bowles
  • Interprofessional Practice and Collaborative Care Excellence Award: Evangelia Maurakis
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacotherapy: Christine Tran
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacoeconomics & Health Outcomes: Sterling Saunders
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmaceutics: Rachel Rivers
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry: Autumn Brenner
  • Geriatric Pharmacy Award: Raelyn Bitor
  • School of Pharmacy Achievement Award: Anthony Garrett Allegra
  • Alumni Award: Maria Procaccini
  • USPHS Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award: Sarah Gillaspie
  • Viatris Excellence in Pharmacy Award: Graham Price
  • Rx Partnership Don Price Award: Maria DePonte
  • ASHP Student Leadership Award: Nicholas DiStefano
  • Abby Metzger Academic Excellence Award: Anthony Garrett Allegra, Autumn Brenner, Khiem Han, Jessica Lai, Ryan Masak, Abigail Park, Rachel Rivers, Sydney Roussel, Sterling Saunders, Christine Tran, Albert Truong, Drew Wilson
  • VCU School of Pharmacy Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Award: Trey Halsey
  • Dean’s Award: Amir Behdani and Camille Schrier


  • Award for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Engineering: Asma Al-Terawi
  • Award for Outstanding Medicinal Chemistry Seminar: Jannatun Namme
  • Charles T. Rector & Thomas W. Rorrer Jr. Dean’s Award for Graduate Studies: Rosalie Hoyle
  • Dean’s M.S. Scholarly Excellence Award: Yasir Alshehry
  • J. Doyle Smith Award: Rosalie Hoyle
  • John Wood Award: Sagun Poudel
  • Peter Byron Research Assistantship: Sarah Strickler
  • Pharmaceutics Leadership and Innovation Award: Raneem Aldaqqa
  • Saraswathi Scholarship for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Sciences: Sagun Poudel
  • Venitz Award for the Outstanding Pharm.D./Ph.D. Scholar: Emily Miller
  • William H. Barr Graduate Student Scholarship and Research Award: Rosalie Hoyle

Outstanding Preceptor Awards

  • Jessica Ayers, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at the Hampton VA Medical Center
  • Lisa Escano, Assistant Professor and Clinical Specialist at VCU School of Pharmacy Inova Campus
  • Meredith Jernigan, Clinical Pharmacist at the Central Virginia VA Medical Center
  • Rene Krogsund, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at the Central Virginia VA Medical Center
  • Caitlin Prather, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist with the Inova Community Access to Care
  • Sarah Sanders, Pharmacy Manager with CVS within Target
  • Megan Sarashinsky, Psychiatry Clinical Specialist with HCA CJW Medical Center- Chippenham
  • Dayanjan Shanaka Wijesinghe, Associate Professor, VCU School of Pharmacy

Preceptor of the Year: David Volles, Critical Care Clinical Pharmacist at the University of Virginia Health System

Teacher of the Year Award


  • P1 Class: Yana Cen
  • P2 Class: Benjamin Van Tassell
  • P3 Class: Krista Donohoe
  • Graduate Program: Yana Cen

2024 Bertha Rolfe Teacher of the Year: Yana Cen

Categories Alumni news, Events, Graduate students, Student news
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