Thursday, May 16, 2013

Commencement Day, virtual and otherwise.

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, It's alright.

~ The Beatles

Whelp. The day has officially come and gone. After four years of working with, getting to know, and helping to grow our medical students, the time finally came for them to cross that stage, receive their diplomas, and sign their names into the alumni book with the suffix "M.D." Yep. And yes, you know how mushy I can get about these things, so I will do my best to keep this light. I mean, I'll try.

Man. The day was so spectacularly gorgeous. It was rather balmy and surprisingly cool which was the perfect companion for the cloudless sky we woke up to that morning. Instead of driving, I slung my academic regalia over my arm, tucked my high heels into my bag and walked to campus in flip flops and shades. Sure did. I snapped the picture above on that stroll because I wanted to remember how good I felt at that moment. I was totally hearing George Harrison's timid voice singing that gentle hook on my mental iPod. . . .

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)
Here comes the sun
And I say, It's alright. 
(insert me singing the guitar and drum parts, too.)

Sigh. Love that song. I think it's my favorite Beatles' tune actually.


Ever since I got appointed as a Society Advisor at our medical school, I've looked at Commencement Day completely different. For me, when one of my advisees is graduating, it feels like Christmas morning when I wake up. There are flutters in my stomach and I feel so excited that sometimes I can hardly sleep. I'm not kidding.

Emory does this really cool thing where the academic advisors affix their small group students with their doctoral hoods. So, literally, the students in my small groups that I've known and taught since their very first day of medical school, stand face to face with me just seconds after having their names called as "doctor" for the very first time.

First day of medical school and first day I ever met them (7/2009)

Talk about a full circle moment.

Hooding Dan W.

Hugging Dan W.

And if you are wondering if it is highly emotional for me, the answer is yes. Now admittedly, it's isn't quite as bad as match day in terms of my tear to snot ratio. Most of my ugly crying is reserved for the day I learn that my "kids" have officially secured gainful employment. But this? This moment is emotional in a stealthier way. No one is ripping open an envelope and screaming at the top of their lungs. There's no surprises or shocking revelations. But what does happen is that, in those few seconds where they stand before you, those years that you watched them grow up fly before your eyes. And, for me, that means those eyes will soon become tearful.

With Doris K.

This year, Doris started it. She looked me in the eyes, hers already wet with tears, and said, "Thank you so much for everything you've done for me. Thank you so, so much." And I looked at this beautiful brown girl standing in front of me and felt my chest swell with so much pride that it couldn't be contained. She looked so strong and beautiful and confident. In those years, she'd become a wife and a mother and now, a doctor.

With Marla W.

"No, thank you for making me so proud," I whispered back as we hugged. And since she was the first of my small group advisees to cross the stage, I knew that my emotional state would only worsen with each hooding. We'd even planned as a group to fist bump before hugging to keep me from becoming a blubbering mess.

It didn't work.

With Jenna M.

Yeah. It's just such an awesome thing to get to do. To be there from the first day and to get the chance to be there again on the last day in such a significant way.

Well. Now this is Kevin S. and though he is not in my small group, he is every bit as dear to me. Though I didn't hood him, I shed my share of Kevin-related tears after commencement.  I've spoken of him before, so you know I think the world of him. We always saw each other and talked so often that when I was talking to him in the atrium that day and preparing to leave, it dawned on me that he was moving away to Boston. Instead of our regular, "See you next week!" -- it instead was punctuated by me stopping mid-sentence. I'm really going to miss Kevin.

On a funnier note, my friend and fellow Grady doctor, Wendy A., was also one of Kevin's mentors. We've always affectionately referred to him as "our boy". . . almost like he was our son. That always felt right since we both felt equal amounts of pride for all he's done and will do.

"Man! We totally need to have another baby together, Wendy!" I laughed. "Our first born came out pretty damn awesome." And that made Wendy, Kevin, and me laugh out loud.

But seriously. We are going to find us another baby to adopt and raise together in the next few months. Stay tuned for that. Hee hee.

What else? Oh!

Remember this guy that I mentioned last week on my thankful list? In case you forgot, this is Ira S., one of my colleagues in the School of Medicine. Actually, he's more like an awesome mentor-friend that, as you already know, I deeply, deeply heart to the umpteenth power.

He's also a kick ass teacher.

So guess what? My Ira lovefest was timely because it makes this part require less background information. Ira S. was awarded the Evangeline Papageorge Distinguished Teaching Award for 2013! Woo hooooo!

Y'all! He was SO surprised. I mean, he's such a humble dude that it never even occurred to him that this would be something he'd win -- which made it all the better when he did. They asked former recipients of the award to stand, and when they did, Ira was applauding super hard and nodding in the directions of those standing with this affirming Ira-like expression on his face. You could have mopped him right up off of the floor when they called his name.

I love that our students and the alumni association chose to recognize him. It's the highest teaching award bestowed upon a teacher at Emory School of Medicine and I cannot think of a more deserving soul than Ira. He's amazing and the embodiment of everything this honor describes.

Ira S.

Yay and yay.

Oh--and the other yay is for Ira's wife Janet S., who is every bit as awesome as he is. All I'll say about her is that she makes me love Ira even more. I am enchanted by smart and thoughtful people. Janet S. is like that.

Team S.

I heart this picture of them so much. The expression on Ira's face will always remind me of the conversation that Janet, him and I had just had before I snapped it. And that conversation was a very, very good one that I'll cherish always.


And you know what else was super sweet? Several of his former students came in support of him. They somehow got wind of the win and came as his "family" since his own kids were out of town. And those students are now busy resident physicians and chief residents who did whatever it took to be there.

Grady Chief Residents Victor and Francois, and intern, Jen S.

And since I know what Ira means to them, too, and what it likely took for them to make it to graduation, this snapshot I took of them standing at the back of the chapel sort of makes me want to cry every time I look at it.


Oh. Here's a few more lovely shots taken with my trusty iPhone.

This one is of Yewande A. She was the recipient of the student version of the Evangeline Papageorge Award. It's the highest honor any student can be given by her classmates at commencement. She's so, so awesome. I was so happy for her I cried when she won that award last week.

I guess me crying is becoming less and less of a shock, huh?

With Dan W.'s whole family who taught me how to say "Congratulations" in Mandarin to his Grandmother.

She'll be doing a combined residency in Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine. Wow!

Oh, and this:

Yes! This!

This is Bryan O. -- who I've also talked about here before. I don't have a picture of it, but Bryan O. was selected by his class to deliver the student address at Commencement. Can I just say he BROUGHT IT? He truly put his heart and soul into that speech. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Here's our text exchange after:

Yes. That was his "Firestarter" speech. (The inside joke on that is that I recently gave a lecture this year to the fourth-year/graduating students for what's referred to as the "Firestarter" lecture. The requirement of it is really to inspire people and, well, ignite something in them. My friend the Profesora in Pittsburgh was the very first one to ever give one in 2011--a super tough act to follow!)

Congratulating the profesora after the inaugural "Firestarter" lecture--AWESOME! Hello?

Right before my "Firestarter" lecture 2 years later. . . 

Oh. Where was I? Bryan's speech. Yes. Dude. I wish you could have heard it. He killed it. He was such a responsible steward of the time he was given. He was. I've gotten to know him quite well over the last year. I felt so lucky that I did. Yes. That dude started some fires, do you hear me? The Profesora in Pittsburgh would have approved that message for sure.

I'll keep the light on for you, Dr. O!

And lastly, this:

I think I mentioned before that 5 of my 8 members of Small Group Beta were graduating this year. (The others took additional time for other academic endeavors such as research and Masters' degrees.) Anyways. This photo includes four of those five. The fifth person? He isn't pictured. And no, it wasn't because he was gone to the mens room. It's because he wasn't there for graduation.

At least, not physically he wasn't.

Mark G. had to leave right after finishing classes to go and be with his parents overseas. One of his parents is under treatment for a serious health issue that limited their travel to the US for the  commencement exercises of their only child.


But man, oh man. Mark was so mature about it. He simply expressed that this moment was more for his parents than him and that he'd rather be with them than anywhere else. Even if it meant missing his medical school graduation. Man. And yeah, he was the first to admit that it would be a bummer to miss this but was even faster to admit that it would be even more of one to be there without his parents. No one had to twist is arm or any such thing. He was strong in his resolve and remarkably fine with the idea. I think his attitude made it easier for them. I'm sure they were more disappointed than he was, and isn't it just remarkable that they raised a son who knows what's really important?

Damn. I was proud of him when he told me that. It would be bittersweet but I was glad that he was sticking to what has always been a mantra for our small groups:

"Family is always first."

Yep. Which is really just something to remind us not to ignore those that matter or to make poor choices  because we don't prioritize correctly. Kind of like I did as a student when I missed Deanna's law school graduation because I "had to study."

Uuuhhh, yeah.

But still. After knowing him for four full years, even though he was being a grown up about this, I still wanted him to have his pomp and circumstance moment. I did. I also wanted his parents to have it, too. Mark's biggest concern was his parents and how much they'd looked forward to this. There had to be something we could do. There just had to be.

There was.

With the help of some Small Group Beta, one of our deans (Thanks, Dean Eley!) and a few others, we were able to create what I affectionately refer to as "Mark's Virtual Med School Graduation" -- aptly to the tune of "Here Comes the Sun." And can I say that I felt every bit as proud of his moment as all of the others?

Mark gave me permission to share it with you. Even better than these photos above, it gives you a good idea of what Commencement Day is like at Emory University School of Medcine-- and also why I always feel those flutters in my stomach . . . and those tears pooling in my eyes. . . year after year.

Thank you, Mr. George Harrison, for the perfect soundtrack to this perfect day. Consider enlarging the video to see it better (and ignore the giddy lady at the beginning because she didn't get much sleep the night before.)

Commencement 2013 from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.

Best. Job. Ever.

Happy Commencement Week. Virtual and otherwise.

And remember: Family is always first. Virtual and otherwise.


  1. That was absolutely awesome. You are one amazing woman and you live to the fullest in every aspect of your life. You are a true inspiration. Sweet Jo

  2. Awww, this post was so moving. Congratulations to all the graduating students and to you and your colleagues on what looks like another incredible, important and challenging year!

  3. Awwwwwww! Another post of yours bringing tears to my eyes. (Your birthday buddy isnt giving us a lot of sleep lately... emotions are running high anyway). What a sweet video, and how fun that he will have a recorded memory to look back on forever. I often wish I had more footage of adrenaline-fueled milestone events like that. You're a great teacher to hook your student up with something so special. Sending you virtual hugs!

  4. I cried all the way through. I felt your HEART in every word. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Dang it Dr. Manning! Could you be any more awesome? Could the people you know and love? Could you stop making me cry these happy tears on a daily basis? Could Dr. Mark be any cuter?

    What a wonderful gift you gave your student who couldn't be there. Thanks for sharing it with us and congtats to all those amazing new Doctors. I think they are so lucky to have you in their lives.

  6. I'm crying. How beautiful. I am looking forward to my medical school graduation and I know it will be amazing because it is mine but I don't think it can match the love that is present here.... wow, wow!

  7. What a great post and what a great video. It's so awesome that you made that for him. There should be a "Will Cause Crying" warning on your blog. :) But good tears. Happy graduation to all of your Emory family and especially Mark.

  8. What a proud moment, I'm proud of you and your students as well. May they go on to be the change they want to see in the world. My cry fest is Saturday morning, when the class I entered seminary with, graduates, because I am part-time, they get to leave me behind.

  9. Soo many amazing people who make EUSOM so great, especially my awesome sister doctors :)
    - D.A.

  10. My mom and I are in Atlanta for a wedding and decided to take the Marta to our hotel from the airport- we're staying at the W in Midtown. Anyway, en route to Midtown, we got to the stop where Grady is... and I felt this crazy urge to get off the train and try to find you. I read your writing and I feel so inspired, both as a writer and as a woman. Needless to say, I stayed put on the train... but just know that I thought about you fondly today!!

  11. Loved this post. the video was awesome and tear inspiring. Dr Mark is a lucky man to have such a great teacher. He is also as cute as a button. Swoon.


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