Virtual Celebration Honors the 13th Graduating Class: The Class of 2021

The 31 students of this year’s Lerner College of Medicine graduating class gathered in small groups with their respective family, friends and loved ones on Saturday, May 15, to acknowledge and celebrate their hard work and remarkable accomplishments over the last five years.

Bud Isaacson, MD, Professor of Medicine and Executive Dean of the Lerner College of Medicine, welcomed the group via video, remarking that 2021 represents not only the 13th graduating class of CCLCM but also the 100th anniversary of Cleveland Clinic.

Bud Isaacson, MD

“This has been a year unlike any other,” said Dr. Isaacson. “COVID has had profound impacts on all aspects of society including disruption of traditional models of education. Your class found opportunities in these challenges, and contributed to our response to the COVID pandemic in patient care, research and education.”

This year’s class was also the first to experience the challenges of a virtual transition to residency. The students did not have the opportunity to rotate at other academic centers or to visit residency programs for interviews.

“We have enormous admiration for your ability to deal with these challenges. And, despite all of this, your class had a great match,” he said.

After reading a letter of congratulations from Mrs. Norma Lerner to the students, Dr. Isaacson offered this advice to them: Resist the temptation to stay in the main “lane” of traditional medical care. Remember that major determinants of health reside outside that lane. Become an advocate for social justice, a position backed by the American College of Physicians.

“Choosing between traditional medical training and social justice is a false dichotomy. We can and must do both,” he said.

Tom Mihaljevic, MD

Dr. Isaacson introduced Tom Mihaljevic, MD, CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic, and Professor of Surgery, who noted that this is an extraordinary time to enter the field because of the tremendous advances in research and medical knowledge driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. He closed by reminding them that they will always have a job at Cleveland Clinic.

John McVey presented a thank-you book to both Mrs. Lerner and Dr. Mihaljevic for their ongoing support of the program and its students.

The class gift to the college, presented by Shadi Mehrabi, was a donation to help support the Cleveland Clinic Louis Stokes Summer Internship Program, which provides area high school students with experience in the business side of healthcare. Two members of the Class of 2021, Lauren Larkin and Bryan Naelitz, are graduates of the summer internship program.

Jonah Thomas introduced the student video, a reflection on the students’ last five years. View the student video.

Amy Nowacki, PhD

This year’s faculty speaker, introduced by Christine Doherty, was Amy Nowacki, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, biostatistician and member of the research faculty. Dr. Nowacki shared a personal interpretation of survival statistics as she related her story of a breast cancer diagnosis several years ago.

Perry Dinardo

On behalf of the class of 2021, Perry Dinardo delivered the student presentation, sharing a favorite saying of her father’s, which is “You can’t just have brilliance, you gotta have resilience.” The Class of 2021 brilliantly demonstrated resilience as they endured many changes, from a brand-new building to a pandemic that forced a pivot to a virtual education, and political and civil unrest across the country.

“Tumultuous and tragic events of the last five years impacted each of us, in different ways at different times. Through all of these transitions, changes, losses, adaptations, we supported each other,” said Perry. “Sometimes this support came in small ways, like cheering each other on when we performed onstage in Doc Opera. Sometimes, we supported each other through a stressful period of med school, like when Aaron and I struggled through PSS biochem together. And sometimes it was actually physical support, like Chan Mi bringing me frozen yogurt when I was hospitalized, Christine encouraging me through my first 10k race, or when I got altitude sickness in Peru and Frank literally carried me to seek medical attention. But the most important support was always emotional. We’ve celebrated many an engagement, wedding, and new baby together. We’ve hugged each other through times when grief and loss felt overwhelming, both personally and on a national scale. Just recently, we were absolutely heartbroken by the loss of our dear Darlene Gray, who we loved so much and who meant so much to all of us.

“We listened to each other, and we learned HOW to learn from each other’s unique perspectives. Class of 2021, I sincerely hope that you will keep listening to and learning from people whose backgrounds are different from your own, and keep finding common ground while honoring our differences. Keep looking for ways to connect and help everyone around you, and keep learning because there is so much more to learn, to discover, to explore,” she said.

Several faculty were recognized with awards:

Kaiser-Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award for Outstanding Basic Science Educator: Shetal Shal, MD, Assistant Professor of Radiology

Kaiser-Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award for Outstanding Clinical Educator: Eric Yudelevich, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine

These once-in-a-lifetime honors recognize the faculty members’ exceptional contributions to student learning and professional development.

Outstanding Faculty Contribution Award: Monica Yepes-Rios, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine

Outstanding Non-faculty Contribution Award: Karen Wright, CCLCM administration team

These two awards are presented by each graduating class to the non-faculty and faculty members who most embody the ideals of CCLCM and demonstrate the highest level of commitment to students.

Excellence in Research Award: Elizabeth Pfoh, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine

Established in 2010, this award recognizes exceptional contributions to student learning and professional development in research.

Elaine F. Dannefer, PhD Award: Gisele Velez, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine

Established in 2017 in memory of Elaine F. Dannefer, PhD, this award recognizes a faculty member who exemplifies and advances the ideals of mentoring and reflective practice at CCLCM.

Thirteen graduating students earned a master’s degree in addition to their degree that reads “Medical Doctor with Special Qualifications in Biomedical Research.”

Clinical Research (MS)
Shadi Mehrabi
Scott Anjewierden
Lynn Daboul
Christine Doherty
Lauren Larkin
Paola Barrios Martinez
Bryan Naelitz
Selena Pasadyn
Sidra Speaker
LeAnne Young

Bioethics & Medical Humanities (MA)
Bethany Bruno
Perry Dinardo

Systems Biology & Bioinformatics (MS)
Jaret (Mac) Karnuta

Christine Warren, MD, MS

Each graduating student was then introduced and recognized by Christine Warren, MD, MS (’09), Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs.

View the entire graduation celebration video from May 15.

On behalf of the entire Lerner College of Medicine, we congratulate the Class of 2021. We are very proud of you. You will soon be on the front lines of patient care during these extraordinary times, and we are confident you will accomplish great things. Congratulations again as you take the next step of your medical journey.

View highlights from the CWRU School of Medicine graduation ceremony held Sunday, May 16.