Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) capped a memorable 2018-2019 academic year with its 18th Annual Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 18 at the Sheraton Fairplex Conference Center, featuring 251 graduates and more than 1,400 attendees.
KGI celebrated graduates across six different degree programs, including five programs from the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences and the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) graduates from the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
With the classic “Pomp and Circumstance” playing overhead, KGI students proudly entered the venue amid cheers and applause from family and friends. In addition to the students and their guests, KGI faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees were in attendance.
Chair of the Board of Trustees Jim Widergren began the ceremony with a welcome address. After the national anthem and invocation, student speaker Tiffany Smolinski, MEng ’19, reflected on her two years at KGI and also spoke about the graduates’ career pathways.
“No matter our future profession: whether we are going to be pharmacists, life science consultants, research scientists or even bioprocessing engineers, we are all helping someone else,” Smolinksi said. “And this should make us happy. It’s not every day someone can say they were able to take part in making a life-saving drug or device.”
Kasey Smith, MBS ’19, then presented the class gift – a donation to the new Student Success Fund in the Class of 2019’s name. The fund, which started this spring, is dedicated to helping students overcome roadblocks on their way to graduation. The Student Success Fund will ensure that the KGI community can move these roadblocks together and help get all KGI students across the commencement stage.
KGI President Sheldon Schuster then welcomed the alumni speaker, Susan Schroeter, PharmD ’18, who shared her congratulations and the lessons she’s learned so far as a KGI alumna.
“Now I encourage you, challenge you, and hopefully inspire you that everything is attainable – even when you had absolutely nothing to start with,” Schroeter said.
“You have the support of your mentors, family, friends, and the KGI community. Go out and get that dream career because you know you deserve it!”
Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences Dean Steve Casper then took the stage to award Gayle Carson Riggs with an honorary degree. Last year, KGI received a transformative gift from Gayle and the Riggs Family in honor of Founding President Hank Riggs. To recognize the magnitude of this gift, KGI proudly renamed the school the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences.
In reading the honorary degree’s proclamation, Casper noted: “Gayle Carson Riggs has made profound and enduring contributions to KGI; perhaps most significantly, the important early contributions she made as a sounding board and thought partner to President Henry E. Riggs in creating KGI.
“Gayle also has been an advocate for KGI’s students; she has strategically supported student-centered initiatives and remains involved in their implementation. The founding of KGI, its subsequent growth, and the success of countless KGI students would not have been possible without the kindness, guidance, and nurturing touch of Gayle Carson Riggs.”
In honoring another impactful member of the community, President Schuster next presented the KGI Lifetime Achievement Award to Norris Professor of Applied Life Sciences Ian M. Phillips, who is retiring after an illustrious 52-year career.
“Ian has moved KGI into so many extremely important areas because of his knowledge, his passion, and his commitment to research and teaching,” Schuster said. “Here at KGI, Ian began what is called the Center for Rare Disease Therapies. To be able to take the knowledge, the background, the genetics, and the patient advocacy, to the point of actually having something that is a therapeutic, is really phenomenal.”
Returning to the podium was Widergren, who served as the keynote speaker on Saturday.
“Welcome to the fellowship of life science and healthcare professionals,” Widergren said. “You’ve chosen a wonderful arena in which to build a career. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing well for yourself while you do good for others. The amount of what you know has grown exponentially during your time at KGI. And now look around at who you know. Welcome to the fellowship of KGI alumni.”
Alongside Widergren, deans Steven Casper and Gail Orum presented the graduating classes. Degrees were awarded for completion of the following programs: Postdoctoral Professional Masters in Bioscience Management, Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing, Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences, Master of Business and Science, Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Life Sciences, and Doctor of Pharmacy.
Directed by President Schuster, the graduating students moved their tassels from their right to their left to signify their transition from students to alumni of KGI.
“Today I look out with pride and optimism,” Schuster said. “I see a future that is more scientifically driven and ethically centered because I know you are the ones creating that future.
“You will continue to gain experience and build on a solid foundation that we formed together.”
After the president’s closing remarks, the Class of 2019 proudly exited the venue in a recessional to a chorus of adoring family, friends, and colleagues.
Earlier in the week, KGI held several other commencement events. In the Postbaccalaureate Certificate Celebration on Thursday, KGI honored the Postbac Premedical Certificate and Postbac Pre-PA Certificate graduates. The Class of 2019 shared a student life video and highlights from student clubs and organizations. Between the opening from Director Joon Kim and Assistant Director Elba Muñoz, PPC alumni Jack Lowe and Saleem Alameh also spoke.
Later on Thursday, KGI held the Riggs Awards Ceremony. Marco Saglimbeni and Leslie Maurer earned the Riggs Highest Academic Performance Award, Madhumita Suresh received the Riggs Distinguished Service Award, Alia Manetta was selected for the Riggs Mission Award, and the Riggs Exemplary Leadership Award went to Joshua Sonica.
After the individual student awards, several team project awards were distributed. To conclude the ceremony, several faculty and staff awards were handed out. Hu Zhang earned the Henry E. Riggs Excellence in Teaching Award, KiriLynn Svay received the Riggs Faculty Service Award, and Leah La Rosa was selected as the Riggs Staff of the Year Award.
In the 2nd Annual Hooding Ceremony that featured the Doctor of Pharmacy graduates on Thursday afternoon, several student awards were announced. Kofi Atta Boateng was selected for the Mylan Excellence in Pharmacy Award, Pranav Bhakta earned the Impact Award, and the Exceptional Student Pharmacist was Tanya Lengvilas.