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The Physician Assistant Studies program recognized its 20 graduates, including nine veterans, with a commencement ceremony held at the Medical Biomolecular Research Building (MBRB) in late December.

The program, which welcomed its first class of students in January 2016, is a result of a public-private partnership that includes support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, and several charitable foundations.

The ceremony included several speakers, including a welcome from Stephen R. Hooper, PhD, associate dean and chair of the DAHS.

“I am delighted to be here today,” he said. “You are the next generation of leaders; you have earned this.”

Program director, Paul Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP, asked students to savor the moment as they crossed the stage as part of the inaugural class.

“Today we gather in a spirit of excellence, in the spirit of compassion, and in a spirit of service. This is the spirit of UNC,” he said.

Kenneth Harbert, PhD, MHA, PA, served as commencement speaker. Harbert, a clinician, medical educator and administrator, has helped establish eight physician assistant programs across the United States. He has served in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard Reserve and with the United States Public Health Service, among other endeavors.

Harbert asked graduates to pay it forward, as they are emerging leaders in the PA profession.

“This is a unique time in the history of the University of North Carolina,” Harbert said. “Each of you is bound to a long legacy of the PA program; each graduate embodies the mission of the Department of Allied Health Sciences.”

During the ceremony, PA faculty members recognized various graduates and preceptors for their achievements in service and academics:

Scholastic & Leadership Impact Award: Given to a student who has demonstrated leadership, scholastic ability, and service to the PA program and to the profession: Daniel Taylor

Making a Difference Award: Given to an outstanding student who has demonstrated exemplary commitment to health, education, and community engagement: Eulalia Barajas-Graham and Alyse Moses-Lebron

Excellence in Education: In recognition of outstanding contributions to the educational mission and development of future PAs during the didactic phase of the program: Jonathan Gerkin, MD, UNC School of Medicine

Preceptor of the Year: In recognition of outstanding contributions to the educational mission and development of future PAs during the clinical phase of the program: Jonathon Heath, MD, UNC School of Medicine

Bruce A. Cairns UNC Physician Assistant Outstanding Values Award: In recognition to a student who, in the opinion of the faculty, best embodies the values of the UNC PA program and the qualities of those who strive to serve our nation and the world: Richard Cowan.

In recognition of the inaugural commencement ceremony, two commemorative bricks will be placed at the front entrance of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants’ Stead Center and in the John McElligott Veterans Memorial Garden.