2017 Commencement Brings Graduates back to St. Maarten

May 28, 2017


On Saturday, May 27, 2017, St. Maarten’s Generation New Status Drum Corps led graduates of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) into the university’s 2017 Commencement ceremony. The event recognized more than 300 graduates who earned a Doctor of Medicine degree and will soon begin their careers in medicine. 
For many graduates, the weekend was an opportunity to bring friends and family back to St. Maarten and revisit the community where their medical school journey began. It was also an opportunity for faculty and members of AUC’s administration to congratulate graduates on their achievement while officially welcoming them into the university’s Alumni Association.
This year’s distinguished guests included the Honorable Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports in St. Maarten, Heidi Chumley, MD, Executive Dean and Chief Academic Officer, Julie Taylor, MD, Senior Associate Dean of Student and Academic Affairs, and Mark Quirk, EdD, Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education.
Focus on Collaboration and Support
Echoed throughout this year’s Commencement was the theme of resilience and collaboration. Speakers and guests acknowledged graduates’ challenging road to medicine and a shared desire to positively influence patients’ lives.
In her opening address, Dr. Chumley recounted stories of humanitarian physicians who have used their profession to heal and break down barriers. AUC alumnus Joel Santora, MD (Class of 2011), for example, was working the night shift in Orlando Regional Medical Center’s critical care unit the night of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Reading from Dr. Santora’s memoir, Dr. Chumley underscored the pride he felt while working with colleagues at a time of overwhelming adversity.
“If you look hard enough at the world’s most challenging situations, you will find physicians in the background—and sometimes on the frontlines—performing their role as healers,” she said. “They do it steadily, selflessly, and often at the risk of their own safety.”
Alumnus Dr. Dhaval Desai Gives Keynote Address
Dhaval Desai, MD (Class of 2008), reiterated the day’s theme in his keynote speech. The Director of Hospital Medicine at Emory Saint Joseph’s described how AUC’s collaborative culture, international reputation, and focus on caring first attracted him to the school in 2004. A decade later, Dr. Desai still relies on those values as a physician.
“As I am well settled in my practice, I continue to utilize the foundations I learned at AUC with me in a different capacity everyday” he said. “I cannot emphasize enough how important and positive your future is not only as a Physician, but as a graduate of AUC.”
Outstanding Academic Achievement and Community Service
Prior to the hooding ceremony, six students were recognized for their outstanding academic achievement and community service.
The Outstanding Academic Achievement Award recognizes students with an exemplary commitment to the study of medicine. This year’s recipients included:

  • Laith Quemi, MD: matched internal medicine at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in New Jersey
  • Stephanie Morrison, MD: matched psychiatry at Berkshire Medical Center in Massachusetts

The Award for Excellence in Community and University Service is presented to students with a strong record of service in St. Maarten and in their clinical communities. This year’s recipients included:

  • Nikole Czapp, MD: matched family medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Pennsylvania
  • Chad Stennett, MD: matched internal medicine at Providence Park Hospital in Michigan
  • Angela Barreto, MD: matched family medicine at Western Michigan University in Michigan
  • Allison Kruger, MD: matched pediatrics/primary care at Maimonides Medical Center in New York  

Receiving Hoods, Preparing for Residency
One by one, graduates were called to the stage to receive their diploma and academic hood. After the conferral of their degrees by Dr. Chumley, graduates recited the Physician’s Oath/Declaration of Geneva and pledged their dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine.
Among cheers and whistles, one name in particular drew a roar from the audience: Neha Dayalani. Dr. Dayalani was born and raised in St. Maarten and had a large following of friends and family members in the audience. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Honorable Silveria Jacobs was able to meet and congratulate her on becoming a physician. Dr. Dayalani will soon begin her pediatrics residency at Hurley Medical Center in Michigan.   
Class Speakers Reflect on Overcoming Cancer
The morning and afternoon ceremonies concluded with touching addresses from two class speakers. William Gaylord, MD and Christopher Haltigin, MD were chosen by their peers and faculty to reflect on their time at AUC and the significance of graduation. The nominees were particularly inspirational as both Dr. Gaylord and Dr. Haltigin were diagnosed with and successfully overcame cancer while at AUC.
“Cancer is something I might have been able to get through on my own but I’m unsure if I would have made it back to AUC if it wasn’t for all of the encouragement along the way,” said Dr. Gaylord. “Today I can call myself a doctor and a cancer survivor because of individuals sitting in this room. I get to continue my dream and cannot thank you all enough.”
Dr. Gaylord will begin his pediatrics residency at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga next month. Dr. Haltigin, whose cancer relapsed over the winter, underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy while interviewing for residencies. He successfully completed treatment before matching into obstetrics and gynecology at Beaumont Health System in Michigan.
“We all have a unique story of how we ended up on the island of St. Maarten,” he said. “AUC gave us the chance to prove ourselves and realize our dream of becoming great physicians. Be proud of being an AUC graduate.”
Want to relive Commencement 2017? Recordings of our morning and afternoon ceremonies are posted on AUC’s YouTube page.