GALVESTON, Texas - The smiles on the two Gomez sisters were radiant, exuding a sense of pride, determination and confidence as they waited in line at William C. Levin Hall.
As Victoria and Claudia Gomez, of Galveston, watched, first-year students at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were walking onto the stage where they were being helped into their medical white coats by upper class colleagues.
As per a relatively new custom in medical schools, Claudia was in line to get a new coat just like the other first-year UTMB students ahead of her. But her symbolic entry into the medical profession would be a bit more special because her older sister, Victoria, a fourth-year UTMB student, would be helping her into the coat.
At the back of the hall and with a surname straddling the end of the alphabet, Alexis Wortley, of Dallas, waited to join the procession of students lined up against a wall of the auditorium and moving toward the stage. Her special moment also would be a family affair because her brother, Phillip, a fourth-year UTMB student, would welcome her into the medical profession.
The Gomez and Wortley siblings waited as name after name was called. Two at a time, students would walk to center stage where they were helped into a white coat by another medical student.
Relatives, friends, fathers and mothers walked up and down the aisles, momentarily lighting up the procession and the stage with camera flashes.
Wearing their brand new coats, the students sometimes stopped to pose for friends and relatives before again taking their seats in the auditorium.
Then it was the Gomez sisters turn and their smiles seemed to be turned up yet another notch. The applause was especially loud from one section where the Gomez family, including two younger sisters, was seated.
Dr. Guillermo Gomez, a surgeon at UTMB, and his wife, Victoria, a nurse practitioner, beamed as the sisters walked off the stage.
A few moments later, Victoria said watching her daughters "was very exciting and I'm very proud of them. It was very emotional." Looking toward her husband, she continued: "It reminds me of when we were in medical school. We never thought that we would have five kids and two of them would be going to medical school."
Guillermo Gomez reflected: "As a father all you want is that your kids can develop and achieve their goals. You just have to provide what they need. I'm very proud of them."
Claudia said that the ceremony crystallized the fact that she would literally have the entire UTMB family's support. Walking up and standing on the stage was "very emotional and amazing for me." She said that, once she sat down with her classmates, several of them said "how great that was and special that you got your sister to coat you."
As the main auditorium area steadily was transformed into a sea of white coats, Phillip and Alexis waited for their moment on the stage.
Then, as Alexis's name was announced, she and her brother walked to the middle of the stage and Phillip helped his sister put on her white coat.
Just after Phillip adjusted the coat on her shoulders, both of them looked up toward the back of the auditorium and smiled. They were looking at the area where their parents, Mike and Tricia Wortley, from Dallas were sitting. A few minutes later the beaming parents were still smiling broadly.
"We couldn't be prouder of both them," Tricia Wortley said.
Alexis in turn said that, as she stood on the stage, she was "happy to be there and thankful that my parents supported me in everything that I've done." She added that she was proud of her brother and was comforted by the thought "that I will have him here for support."
Phillip said that he was "really glad that I'm going to spend my last year here; helping her out and helping her learn the ropes and showing her things that I've learned."
Phillip and Alexis, who are the first in their family to attend medical school, said that they had only in recent years discussed a career in medicine, although they've long shared an interest in science.
As the ceremony was ending, Mike Wortley was still beaming. It was at about that time that he was asked whether he was surprised that his children had chosen a medical career. Looking toward Alexis and Phillip, he grinned and said: "I'm a lawyer. I guess they saw me and decided to do something else."