The College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021 poses in front of Bailey Hall.

An unconventional send-off for veterinary class of 2021

Fresh from clinical rotations, the College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021 celebrated commencement with unconventional ceremonies that wrapped up an unconventional academic year.

The class comprises 107 newly minted veterinarians with career plans that range from emergency medicine to dairy practices and laboratory animal residencies. Lorin D. Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine, congratulated the class and wished them well during a small send-off ceremony May 26 in Bailey Hall.

“As you take this next momentous step, you’re not only starting your careers as new veterinarians, but also doing it at a time of huge adjustment for our country,” Warnick said. “The communication abilities, the empathy and service mindset that you’ve exhibited and practiced during your education here at Cornell will be a very important part of your success during this next phase of your career and throughout your lifetime.”

Everyone wore masks and the event was limited to students, who sat in physically distant seats inside Bailey Hall. Graduates arrived already hooded, and instead of cheering the class from the audience, various faculty, staff, family and friends either applauded outdoors on the plaza while the graduates processed into Bailey Hall or tuned into the livestream. Some traditions, however, remained the same – including the graduates inflating palpation gloves, which they waved during both the send-off and the university’s commencement.

Graduates inflated palpation gloves, a long-standing tradition.

Mark Will ’89, president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, welcomed the graduates to the profession and encouraged them to work for the benefit of society. “Always remember that each patient has another name. It’s a child’s pet, maybe a widower’s best friend, a farmer’s herd of cattle. A family’s livelihood – maybe a canine officer, a therapy or service animal, or an emotional support companion,” Will said. “You are not in this alone, so embrace your community, your clients, your mission, your legacy and your meaning.”

David Lee ’88, D.V.M. ’94, M.B.A. ’99, clinical professor and associate dean for external programs, led the students in the recitation of the Veterinarian’s Oath. Katherine Edmondson, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’89, assistant dean for students and instruction, then presented each graduate individually.

This year’s recipient of the Zoetis Distinguished Teaching Award, assistant clinical professor Julia Miller, D.V.M. ’12, then addressed the graduates. She described her own journey as an alumna of Cornell, initially intending to be an equine surgeon but ultimately finding her passion for dermatology.

“I am beyond excited for what’s to come in your careers, because being a vet is one of the coolest professions on the planet,” Miller said. “The foundation you got here at Cornell has and will open so many doors for you. You just have to have the courage to walk through them.”

James Morrisey, D.V.M. ’92, senior lecturer and section chief of exotics, then presented three awards to students for their outstanding scholarship, leadership and care:

  • The Horace K. White Prize, awarded to the graduate with the highest academic record during their entire veterinary training, to Lindsay Seewald, D.V.M. ’21.
  • The Malcolm E. Miller Award, awarded to a graduating student who demonstrates perseverance and scholastic diligence, to Lili Becktell, D.V.M. ’21.
  • The Leonard Pearson Prize, awarded to a student most successfully demonstrating potential for professional and/or academic leadership in veterinary medicine, to Rachael Strauss ’16, D.V.M. ’21.

In more conventional years, the college’s student a capella group Ultrasound performs “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” to conclude the event. Because COVID-19 restrictions made this impossible, the Cornell Glee Club offered its recorded renditions of the university’s alma mater and “Evening Song.”

The college also celebrated the graduation of its latest MPH and Ph.D. cohorts. The MPH group recognized its students with an informal picnic at Stewart Park May 25 and an online ceremony May 28. Of its 30 graduates, the program’s cohort boasts a range of career plans, which include a health equity analyst, an epidemiologist at NASA, health project leader with the Tompkins County Department of Health and consultant in Washington, D.C. Some also plan to continue their education in human medicine, tropical medicine and in nutritional science.

There were four Ph.D. graduates, two in December and two in May, who are now in postdoctoral positions, working as a scientist at a pharmaceutical research company and as a veterinarian with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

The veterinary class joined these cohorts for Cornell’s commencement on Saturday, May 29, which was divided into multiple ceremonies over the weekend as part of the pandemic precautions.

Said Warnick: “I want to welcome you as colleagues in the veterinary profession. We're so excited for your future and confident in your success.”

Melanie Greaver Cordova is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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