When the 2016 School of Medicine graduates received their degrees at the Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston on June 4, they also received some advice from a very well-known name in the field of infectious diseases—Thomas Geisbert, PhD.
A professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UTMB, Geisbert works in the university’s Galveston National Laboratory developing and testing potential vaccines for Ebola and other emerging health threats. As this year’s commencement speaker, he told the more than 200 graduates about lessons he has learned from his career, such as not to be afraid to step out of the mainstream and learn to accept failure along with success.
“My failures in the 1990s led to many successes in the 2000s. With some close colleagues, we were able to develop both a preventive vaccine and a post-exposure treatment that completely protected monkeys against Ebola,” said Geisbert. “There will be failures and setbacks, but most things in life that are worth having don’t come without some risk. Step up to the plate when the times are tough, lift up those less fortunate than you, and never, ever give up. What you have started here will indeed make the world a better place.”
Dr. Danny Jacobs, executive vice president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, told graduates that it was fitting for Geisbert to be the keynote speaker, as he is an example of what medicine so desperately needs at the moment: innovators.
“In today’s increasingly complicated and ever-changing healthcare environment, it will be the innovators who lead the way,” said Jacobs. “And you have the opportunity to use the training you have received and will receive to change how medicine is provided and practiced. . . . No matter what path you take, I encourage you to rise to meet today’s challenges with the spirit of innovation.”
More than half of the SOM graduates will be staying in Texas to continue their training. Since 1891, UTMB has conferred more than 14,500 medical degrees and trained more physicians than any other Texas medical school.
Dr. Ben Raimer, senior vice president of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs, carried the ceremonial mace during the commencement ceremonies. The mace-bearing tradition dates back to medieval times, when a mace-bearer would walk ahead to ensure safe passage of the leader of a cathedral, kingdom or university.
The ceremony also included the announcement of several awards, including the introduction of this year’s Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumni Award winners, Drs. Gerald A. Beathard, Paul Brindley, Delbert Lee Chumley and Albert E. Sanders. The ASDA Award is the highest honor bestowed by the alumni of the SOM Alumni Association. Of the more than 9,000 SOM alumni, only 199 have been honored with this prestigious award since its inception in 1965. The award honors the memory of Dr. Ashbel Smith, a prominent figure in Texas medicine, politics and education who was instrumental in establishing the University of Texas at Austin in 1881 and the medical department in Galveston that would become UTMB.