Postbac Premed Program Class of 2021 Celebrated at Class Day Ceremony
Lisa Rosen-Metsch, Dean of the School of General Studies and Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, opened the ceremony by welcoming the graduates and their guests. Her remarks were followed by a video featuring Columbia faculty members, Program administrators, and alumni, each of whom offered their sincere congratulations to the Class of 2021.
Dean Rosen-Metsch then introduced Class Day Keynote Speaker Dr. Ashley Paige Oliver, Chief Resident in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at the University of California San Francisco and a Postbac Premed Program alumna, having served as president of the Premedical Association (now the Postbac Premed Student Council) during her time at Columbia. Dr. Oliver is a graduate of the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she served as a curricular class representative and on medical education committees, as well as president of the Black and Latino Student Organization.
Dr. Oliver reflected on what it means to be a nontraditional student, sharing that she sometimes felt inferior to her peers while in medical school. Yet, she said, the events of the past year—namely, the COVID-19 pandemic, the failures of the country’s strained public health infrastructure, the devastating effects of deep-seated racial and economic inequities, and the trauma of continually bearing witness to structural racism and anti-Black and anti-Brown violence—have all but eradicated those insecurities. She now fully embraces her nontraditional background, with decades spent as a pianist and years studying the humanities—recalling anthropology courses taken as an undergraduate, and later a focus on film and cinematic history as a graduate student.
“I have clutched my former training in the humanities and social science to me like an amulet, or like a tiny compass to show me ‘this is the way forward, this is how you can make sense of this, this is how we can deconstruct the present and remake it into a habitable place for your mind and your soul.' … These experiences, these skills, these identities, are deeply entwined in the way I have walked through and worked through this last year. And I could not be more grateful for them.”
Next, Dean Rosen-Metsch introduced the Postbac Alumni Key Award winner, Chelsia Melendez, who served as vice president of community relations for the Postbac Premed Student Council, co-president of Social Justice Medicine, and as a member of the GS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force. She is also co-creator of the GS Underrepresented in Medicine Summer Program. The Alumni Key Award is awarded each year to a student who has achieved distinction both academically and through service to the community.
Our essential shared work in building a just and honest and caring society will not end soon. But when I think of all that you’ve achieved and are going to achieve in your future careers as healthcare providers, the future looks bright, and I feel confident that we are moving in the direction of a strong and compassionate recovery.
In addition, Dean Rosen-Metsch acknowledged Meika Folkers, recipient of this year’s Dean’s Citation, given to a student completing the Program who has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to outstanding leadership and service to the community throughout their academic tenure. Meika served concurrently as both the president and vice president of communications for the Postbac Premed Student Council (PPSC), and was the driving force behind a restructuring of the PPSC and a rewrite of its bylaws to ensure a more inclusive, collaborative student community for all students in the Program.
Following the awards, James Colgrove, Dean of the Postbac Premed Program, praised the Class of 2021 for demonstrating their commitment to building a better world, not only persevering through coursework while navigating an epidemiological crisis and the related and interconnected crises of political upheaval, racism and xenophobia, injustice, and multiple forms of violence—but volunteering in their communities, getting involved, and supporting one another.
“You've guided patients through vaccination sites, rushed to the aid of patients in need as EMTs, and supported clinical teams as clinical scribes. You've counseled adolescents on HIV prevention, and comforted seniors with dementia. You’ve done all of this work while successfully completing some of the most demanding science courses Columbia has to offer. You've demonstrated your commitment to a better world by … preparing yourselves to join the health professions at a time when the world desperately needs the kind of passionate and smart health care workers you are already becoming.
“Make no mistake, there is much to be done. We are now in a race between the vaccines and the viral variants, and after the pandemic is under control, the medical and public health challenges facing the country and the world are enormous. Not least of these challenges are the consequences of discrimination in medicine, seen in the appalling disparities in health outcomes along lines of privilege. Our essential shared work in building a just and honest and caring society will not end soon. But when I think of all that you’ve achieved and are going to achieve in your future careers as healthcare providers, the future looks bright, and I feel confident that we are moving in the direction of a strong and compassionate recovery.”
Dean Colgrove then introduced a video presenting a snapshot of the Class of 2021, as well as congratulations from various student groups including the PPSC, Columbia University Medical Veterans (MedVets), the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), the Columbia Society of Medical Humanities (CSMH), the Surgical Society, and Social Justice Medicine (SJM), among many more.
As future physicians, we have a responsibility to the people that come after us, to make their journey more equitable, more just, and more humane.
After the video, Dean Colgrove introduced Student Speaker Chelsia Melendez. In addition to the leadership roles mentioned earlier, Chelsia volunteered as a health educator for Project STAY, a community clinic that serves justice-involved youth as well as LGBTQ, homeless, and underserved adolescents in New York City. Recently, she was accepted to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai through its linkage agreement with the Postbac Premed Program, and will begin medical school this fall.
Chelsia spoke about the sentiments shared by her and many of her classmates who often felt like they did not belong at Columbia, describing sitting in a 200-student science class and only seeing a handful of black and brown students among the crowd. Without seeing more students who looked like her, she describes feeling like an impostor with a dream of one day becoming a physician.
“As future physicians, we have a responsibility to the people that come after us, to make their journey more equitable, more just, and more humane…. It’s a new day. We are rising to meet the times and we will not be constrained by the old systems that were not meant for us. This is our time. The day has dawned. Not because of me or you, but because of thousands of physicians, thousands of people—black, Latino, trans, indigenous, immigrant, queer, disabled, Asian, non-binary—that have paved the way for us to be here today. On behalf of myself and all my fellow classmates, we want to dedicate this speech to all the people who look like us who have not been represented. I want to dedicate this speech to all the short black Latina girls that felt like their voices were not heard. I hear you. We hear you. And we will do better."
The Postbac Premed Program Class of 2021:
- Comprises 91 students completing the Program
- Representing 18 states and 6 countries
- Dedicated over 12,000 hours to premedical clinical and research positions at over 100 sites
- Completed undergraduate and graduate studies at 112 institutions around the world in more than 50 subjects