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Uniformed Services University (USU) graduated 280 health care providers May 17 at its commencement ceremony held in Washington, D.C., at the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.

Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright served as commencement speaker for the event celebrating graduates from the university’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing and Postgraduate Dental College.

Wright, herself a 35-year veteran of military service, spoke of her confidence in the abilities of the new graduates.

“I know we are in good hands. While I know that many of you are brilliant, I celebrate and admire most [of] your disciplined work and your character,” Wright said. “What I want you to remember about today is the feeling that you have right now … the feeling of expectation, the feeling of excitement, the feeling of accomplishment and the feeling that your hard work paid off. You clearly have made it.”

As the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense, Wright makes recommendations regarding recruitment issues, career development, pay and benefits for active duty, National Gua rd and Reserve personnel, and Department of Defense civilians.

“I am passionate about military health on many different levels. People are the very essence of military readiness,” Wright said. “Our national security strategy cannot be achieved without healthy, fit and resilient men and women in uniform.”

She reminded the graduates as health care providers, they should treat each patient with compassion, respect and enthusiasm.

“Treat each patient, whether they’re a retiree or a family member, a warrior or a survivor, as a person, not as a statistic or a medical issue. You have an awesome responsibility and a privilege to care for each one of them,” Wright said.

For some of the graduates, the day held even more meaning as they took part in a promotion ceremony and administration of their respective service oaths. Several students and faculty members were also recognized with awards. Doctor of Medicine graduates recited the Hippocratic Oath, promising to uphold professional ethical standards throughout their careers.

As the ceremony concluded, retired Marine Corps Col. Leon Moores, president of the USU Alumni Association, welcomed the new graduates to the USU alumni family. He urged the graduates to know their personal and professional limits and to keep themselves and their patients safe by practicing within them.

“But those limits will expand more than you can imagine throughout your career,” Moores said. “I envy all of you. You’re starting on a great journey.”

For Navy Lt. Michelle Bongiorno, the ceremony was bittersweet. As a transitional intern, Bongiorno will soon head to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), but that means she might lose touch with individuals she has grown close to during her education.

“I’m sad I won’t see these people for a while or some of them ever again,” Bongiorno said as tears welled in her eyes. “But I couldn’t have graduated with a better group. It feels wonderful.”

The commencement ceremony capped off a busy week at USU, which included the university’s annual Research Days May 14 to 15, an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to promote current research projects in the areas of basic science, medicine, nursing, public health and behavioral science.

“It’s really about showcasing our principal investigators’ research,” Mary Kay Gibbons, administrative officer for the office of research at USU, said. “It’s a great way for everybody to share their sciences with each other.”

Posters displayed the work of 255 university-sponsored research projects, including Sasha Larson’s project entitled “Differential Restimulation-Induced Cell Death Sensitivity in Effector T-cells Derived from Human Memory CD8+ T-cell Subsets,” which won Outstanding Poster in the Graduate Student Poster Competition.

“We’re looking at how activated effector T-cells die and why,” said Larson, a third year student in the Emerging Infectious Disease Ph.D. program. “What we found is there are subsets that die differently and that’s going to give us a tool for teasing apart the ‘why’.”

Research Days also included educational lectures, symposiums, award ceremonies and receptions. Susan Rasmussen, director for the office of program development at USU, believes Research Days is a collective effort that benefits everyone.

“It’s the culmination of everyone’s research during the year that encompasses not only the students, but it includes our postdoctoral fellows and our faculty. It brings them all together,” Rasmussen said. “I think it fosters collaboration. For the students, I think it shows what can be done and it gives them that confidence and ability to talk about their research.”