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Weill Cornell graduates new doctors, including inaugural class from Qatar

NEW YORK -- Weill Cornell Medical College conferred degrees on its newest physicians May 29, in a traditional ceremony marked by a historic first: the inclusion of graduates from the college's location in Qatar.

The 96 men and women who earned M.D.s from the Manhattan campus were joined by all but one of the 15 members of the inaugural class from Qatar, who graduated in their own ceremony in Doha three weeks ago.

Clad in carnelian gowns with green velvet trim, the new doctors sat together in Carnegie Hall as a unified Class of 2008, with the landmark hall's stage lined with pots of red and white carnations.

"Your years at this magnificent medical school have provided you with the finest scientific and clinical training," Cornell President David Skorton, himself a cardiologist, told them in his address. "I hope they have also given you a strong ethical and moral framework that will continue to provide context and meaning to what you do, long after some of the specific science that we have taught you will become quaint and obsolete."

The festivities began Wednesday evening, May 28, with a convocation ceremony in a standing-room-only Uris Auditorium, where dozens of academic prizes were awarded.

WCMC Dean Antonio Gotto offered a special welcome to parents. "Thank you for sending your offspring to us," he said. "You have supported them for many years -- and they still have a few years to go." His reference, to the internships, residencies and fellowships that the newly minted M.D.s still face after their long years of study, elicited a round of chuckles from the audience.

At the commencement ceremony, University Marshal Charles Walcott, a professor of neurobiology and behavior on the Ithaca campus and the outgoing dean of the faculty, carried the university baton; Weill Cornell urologist Darracott Vaughan bore the mace. In addition to the 111 M.D. degrees conferred at the event, 39 people earned Ph.D.s and 13 earned master's of science degrees from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

Skorton's remarks began with a moment of silence for the late Stephen Weiss '57; he called Weiss, the first chairman of the medical college's Board of Overseers and chairman emeritus of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, "a consummate Cornellian." Skorton also asked listeners to remember the people of China and Myanmar, who "face unthinkable sorrow" in the wake of the natural disasters that have claimed thousands of lives.

His address to graduates focused on the importance of ethics in medical practice and research, citing such thorny issues as the use of embryonic stem cells and the challenge of making decisions about end-of-life care.

"Medical ethics bring together the two cultures [of science and the humanities], and as physicians and scientists you will need to live in both worlds," he said.

The ceremony also included its share of lighter moments -- such as when Miguel Pineda accepted his M.D. diploma while carrying his toddler son, who was decked out in a perfect miniature version of a black gown and mortarboard.

Scott Kaplan, chosen by his fellow M.D. graduates as class speaker, brought the house down -- and visibly cracked up many of the dignitaries on the dais -- with a comic speech accented by scrawled notes on an easel, which he offered in lieu of a PowerPoint presentation. (A hand-colored pie chart denoted how much time he had spent working on the talk compared with watching episodes of "The Wire" on HBO; he listed vote tallies in a mock election for class speaker, which had him coming behind Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and "anyone but Scott" -- but ahead of disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.)

Immunologist Omar Vandal, student speaker for the Weill Cornell Graduate School, noted that among his classmates' inspiration for pursuing their studies was "discovering that archaeologist and whip-master Indiana Jones has a Ph.D."

When the M.D. degrees were conferred, Gotto called the New York graduates to cross the stage, alternating with Qatar Dean Daniel Alonso, who named the new physicians from his campus. The 15 Cornell University degrees conferred in Qatar represent the first M.D.s ever granted by an American university on foreign soil, and the culmination of an educational endeavor that began with the enrollment of the inaugural class of premedical students six years ago.

"You could call this project hands across the sea," Gotto said of the partnership between Cornell and the Middle Eastern emirate. "I can't think of a better example of global medicine."


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