Two sisters from Baltimore County were among 29 students who received Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees today at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's 2017 summer commencement.
Kayla Coad of Parkville was just behind older sister Karis crossing the stage at the Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts, which doubled as the venue for the 131st Founders' Day convocation.
Graduates and the audience also were treated to an announcement from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church, which bestowed denomination historic site status on UMES.
Karis Coad, 26, wants to specialize in geriatric treatment, while Kayla says doing outpatient / orthopedic care is what interests her as a career path.
“I'm really looking forward to being able to work one-on-one with people,” said Kayla, 25. “Getting this degree is the biggest accomplishment in my life.”
Karis said she chose to study physical therapy because she values “developing a relationship with patients and seeing first-hand how what you do can make a difference in people's lives.”
Faculty and classmates admired the Coads' dedication over the past year in helping care for an elderly grandparent who died this past summer.
The Coad sisters, who earned bachelor's degrees from Rosemont (Pa.) College, and their classmates now shift their attention to the national licensure exam each must pass to practice in the profession.
UMES' pass-rate record is among the nation's best, a fact not lost on Dr. LeRoi Hicks, the commencement speaker, who said he was impressed by graduates' performance he discovered while doing homework on the program.
Hicks, a senior physician at the Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del., proved an inspirational choice as a graduation day speaker.
Hicks was stricken nine years ago with Guillain-Barré syndrome, “a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“It was the therapist who had the greatest impact on my health and well-being,” he said. “I've gained empathy for my patients that never existed before.”
Hicks told graduates they will be successful if they treat each patient “in exactly the same manner in which you want to be treated.”
“You are going to directly impact the health of individuals,” Hicks said. “I congratulate you on entering this career.”
Moments before the 90-minute ceremony, where 25 Marylanders received degrees, Alex Harrington of Baltimore was still coming to grips with the notion “all those years of hard work were coming to an end.”
Tyler Long of Frederick, standing nervously nearby, agreed.
“I'm just happy it's over,” Long said. “Seven years of school is a long time.”
Except … Long says he has an interest in pursuing certification as a “hand therapist,” which will mean more study.
Kristen Russo called receiving her doctorate “a huge accomplishment. It's the beginning of a new phase in my life.”
Russo said she came away from her three years at UMES with an appreciation of how to be disciplined and putting in the time and effort it takes to be successful.”
She's hopeful of finding work near Bel Air, her hometown, where she would like to focus on acute care / neuro-therapy in an outpatient setting.
A Methodist Church conference delegation led by 1950 alumna Jessie Cottman Smith, the university's librarian emerita, presented UMES President Juliette B. Bell with a resolution and plaque naming the university an official historic site of the denomination.
Leaders of the 19th-century Methodist Episcopal Church opened the Delaware Conference Academy in Princess Anne on Sept. 13, 1886. It soon became known as Princess Anne Academy, followed by a series of name changes that accelerated after it became a publicly supported institution.
“This honor is long overdue,” said Russ McCabe, President of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference's archives and history commission.
UMES is officially United Methodist historic site no. 536.
“We are so very proud of this great institution,” said the Rev. Fred W. Duncan, the Peninsula-Delaware Conference's Salisbury district superintendent.