The national anthem has been sung thousands of times before at the USC Galen Center. But on May 17, the familiar tune celebrated medicine, heralding the opening of commencement ceremonies for the MD and MD/PhD graduates of the Class of 2014 of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Distinguished speakers shared advice with the 169 graduating Keck School students on their careers and the impact they can have on all parts of society in a changing medical landscape.

Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, dean of the Keck School, praised their passion and commitment to social justice in health-care delivery. “I love this class’s brilliance, enthusiasm, clinical acumen, research accomplishments and love of life,” he said. “As your Dean, I have one simple request: Do not forget the poor, the unlucky, the unfortunate — those people whom you will encounter without the means or knowledge to get the health care they need and deserve.”

Student speaker and MD candidate David Herman II expounded on the profundity of Disney characters, citing Sebastian, the hermit crab from The Little Mermaid, who said, “Listen to me. The human world is a mess.”

“Harsh criticism from a crustacean, but in many respects, the human world is a mess,” said Herman. “I suspect that many of us chose to enter medicine because we felt we had something to offer to help clean it up. We came to Keck because the faculty asked us to join them with the intention of molding us, training us, stamping us and sending us out into the world to make it better in whatever ways we can.”

Actress and social activist Madeleine Stowe spoke on her father’s illness and the profound impact the doctors’ compassion had on her family’s security.

“You are healers, easing and eradicating pain and suffering, and that is a vocation —it is not a job, no matter how much it may feel like one at times,” she said. “It is a true calling, and you are so lucky because most of us struggle in life to ever find one.

“As medical practitioners, I ask you to make one choice: Pick the good fight, and with your articulate voices be the leaders who bring us back into the light when we are hurt and frightened, and help us feel safe again,” she continued. “Your passion and advocacy may be the most powerful weapon this country has; don’t ever underestimate it.”

Stowe was presented with the Dean’s Humanitarian Service Award for her charitable work in Haiti, as well as her work as a member of the board of directors of Artists for Peace and Justice, an organization formed to support efforts of a grassroots Haitian team serving residents of Port-Au-Prince’s toughest neighborhoods.

Ming Hsieh, USC trustee and CEO and chairman of Fulgent Therapeutics, was honored with the Elaine Stevely Hoffman Award for his extraordinary service in recognition of longstanding contributions and supreme dedication to the Keck School, which includes donating $85 million to medical and engineering research at USC.

Other commencement ceremonies were held throughout the week.

On Wednesday, May 14, the Keck School awarded 123 master’s degrees in a variety of biomedical and biological fields, 79 Master of Public Health degrees and 33 PhD degrees.

On Thursday, May 16, ceremonies were held for several schools and programs, including the USC School of Pharmacy, the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, the Keck School’s Primary Care Physician Assistant Program, Health Promotion and Global Health programs.

The USC School of Pharmacy awarded 178 PharmD degrees, 13 PhD degrees and six Doctor of Regulatory Science degrees. Additionally, 55 graduates were awarded master’s degrees, 41 pharmacists completed their residency training and eight individuals completed fellowships.

The Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy awarded 92 Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees, two master’s degrees in biokinesiology and five PhD degrees in biokinesiology, while the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy honored two graduates with PhD degrees in occupational science, 30 Doctor of Occupational Therapy degrees, 130 master’s degrees and 21 bachelor’s degrees.

The Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC awarded 172 Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees, 40 bachelor’s degrees in Dental Hygiene, 46 advanced specialty degrees and four PhD degrees in Craniofacial Biology.

On Friday, May 16, the Department of Family Medicine’s Primary Care Physician Assistant Program awarded 53 Master of Physician Assistant Practice degrees, while the Department of Preventive Medicine’s Health Promotion and Global Health undergraduate programs awarded 115 Bachelor of Science degrees.

— Amy E. Hamaker