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The Veterinary Class of 2020 at their white coat ceremony.

Cornell veterinary class of 2020 celebrates white coat ceremony

With friends, family and mentors looking on, third-year veterinary students gathered March 16 for the traditional donning of their white lab coats, signifying their transition into clinical training.

A student shakes hands with Dean Lorin Warnick at the ceremony.

The 2019 College of Veterinary Medicine White Coat Ceremony was held in Bailey Hall, officiated by Lorin D. Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine, and Katherine Edmondson, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’89, assistant dean for students and instruction.

Mark Olcott, D.V.M. ’95, president of the alumni association executive board, administered the Veterinarian’s Oath. The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Lisa Freeman ’81, M.S. ’86, D.V.M. ’86, president of Northern Illinois University.

Warnick opened the event by recounting some of his experiences working as an ambulatory clinician, including a time he visited an Amish farm and a 4- and a 6-year-old helped him get a recalcitrant cow into a stall. “Value the knowledge and observations clients have of their own animals – even if only 6 years old,” Warnick advised.

After his remarks, Edmondson joined Warnick on the stage to guide the third-year students through their coating ceremony. Each student stepped onto the stage, and a mentor of their choosing helped to slide the white lab coat over their shoulders, signifying the moment they would officially begin their clinical training.

Olcott led the students through the Veterinarian’s Oath, which the third-years repeated after him, right hands raised.

A student receives her white coat, which signifies a veterinary student’s transition into clinical training. 

Dr. Leni Kaplan ’91, lecturer in the Community Practice Service, then presented the John F. Cummings Memorial award to third-year student Laura St. Clair. The scholarship provides financial assistance to a student who has demonstrated clear and outstanding academic achievement in the study of veterinary medicine or comparative medicine. The award was established in 1996 in memory of John Cummings ’58, D.V.M. ’62, Ph.D. ’66, the James Law Professor of Anatomy, who taught at Cornell for 29 years.

Freeman addressed the students last, telling them the moment will feel different to each one of them.

Third-year veterinary students recite the Veterinarian’s Oath.

“Today, when you put on the symbolic white coat, you will look and feel different to others – and to yourselves,” she said. “You, members of the Class of 2020, will vary in how you feel about this transition – whether you are completely comfortable with the choices you have made, whether you feel fully prepared for your clinical rotations. It’s perfectly OK.

“In fact, I hope this won’t be the last time the profession challenges you to feel this way,” she said. “One of the greatest things about veterinary medicine is the breadth of career options and the associated opportunities for continued growth and reinvention. My own career pathway certainly speaks to this.”

Freeman spoke about how, as Northern Illinois president, she uses the same skills that she learned as a fourth-year veterinary student.

“I observe, listen and then use that experience to synthesize a plan,” she said. “I act with incomplete information, understanding that adjusting downstream can yield better outcomes than doing nothing. I pursue pathways that are the best options in the context of limited resources. I clean up messes that I didn’t make, and I work with a team of caring individuals who share my values.”

Lauren Cahoon Roberts is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Lindsey Hadlock