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New pharmacists kick off graduation ceremonies at SIUE

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy began the commencement season Saturday, April 30, in the Vadalabene Center’s First Community Arena.

Provost Denise Cobb, PhD, and SOP Associate Dean Jessica Kerr, PharmD, conferred degrees upon 82 graduates in the Class of 2022.

SIUE commencement ceremonies will continue Friday-Saturday, May 6-7. Chancellor James T. Minor will oversee a series of seven ceremonies for 2,356 eligible graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School, and Schools of Business, Engineering, Nursing, and Education, Health and Human Behavior.

All ceremonies will be streamed live on

The SOP combined its traditional hooding ceremony with commencement. SOP alumnus Ryan Birk, PharmD, ’13 presented the keynote address. Birk is the director of pharmacy at BJC HealthCare for Memorial Hospital Belleville, Memorial Hospital Shiloh and Memorial Care Center. He described how pharmacy ultimately comes down to “people helping people” and shared a few secrets that can act as a compass in the journey ahead.

“Always show your strengths and let them lead the way,” Birk said. “You can create change from wherever you start, and you are often the best person to create a change.”

“Fail fast and forward,” he continued. “Make every failure a step closer to success. Your attempts should focus on trying new ways to deliver care, expanding pharmacists’ roles, and thinking about what pharmacy and healthcare will look like in 5-10 years. Finally, share kindness to do more together. Random acts of kindness transcend our differences and are a small step in the progression of diversity and inclusion.”

Ceremony awards included the Academic Excellence Award presented to the student with the highest cumulative grade point average over their four years within the program: Brody Howard, Lesley Swick, Abigail Switzer and Jason Votrain.

“With over 1,000 alumni from the first 13 graduating classes, we have only had 14 students finish with a 4.0 grade-point average,” shared Kerr. “This equates to approximately 1 percent of our graduates. To have four individuals achieve this is a remarkable accomplishment.”

The Faculty Excellence Award was presented to Steven Blake Hicks in honor of his academic excellence, motivation to further the profession, leadership and involvement. The award is determined by faculty nominations and voting processes.

Aneesh Asokun earned a doctor of pharmacy and a Master of Business Administration, and provided the student address. Asokun will become the second executive resident at the American Pharmacists Association, Board of Pharmacy Specialties, in Washington, D.C.

“When I look upon this crowd, not only do I see colleagues and doctors, I also see future leaders,” Asokun said. “I am glad to have the opportunity to meet each and every one of you. Now, we begin a new chapter of our lives. I have no doubt that you will all do great things and help your respective communities.”
Asokun noted to his peers that imposter syndrome all too often plagues individuals, but that they should always remember: “You are worthy. You are smart and capable. You are amazing.”

“A healthy dose of imposter syndrome will keep you on your toes,” he shared. “But, do not bend to its will. If you ever feel it bubbling under the surface, remember to reach out to your friends, loved ones and family. They know the real you and will always offer you the support you need.”

To conclude the ceremony, SOP graduates recited the Oath of the Pharmacist and were reminded of their invitation to stay connected and engaged with the University as alumni.

A School of Pharmacy graduate crosses the stage during the School of Pharmacy commencement ceremony.

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