Duke Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program Celebrates Inaugural Commencement

By Jennifer I. Curtin


On May 4, the Duke Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) Program honored the first graduating class of 36 students at a morning commencement ceremony at the Duke University Chapel. With their dedication and hard work, this class has achieved remarkable success, which was overwhelmingly present at the ceremony.   

barb hooper co 24
Barbara Hooper, PhD, OTR/L, founding program director and division chief, OTD

Pride, friendship, and triumph beamed from Barbara Hooper, PhD, OTR/L, founding program director and division chief, as she exclaimed, “It is my deep joy to welcome you to this momentous occasion to celebrate this group of trailblazers, pioneers, and graduates of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate program at Duke University.”

She exclaimed, “Improving the health of individuals, communities, and populations by addressing what people want and need to do daily is what we envisioned Duke OTD graduates advancing. Today, we know it will happen.” 

Duke welcomed the occupational therapy program’s inaugural cohort of students in August 2021. The program is built on the conviction that the ability to engage in activities that are important to people is a human right and essential to good health. Occupational therapy improves the ability of individuals to access and participate in all the activities that add meaning to their lives, including jobs, family activities, childcare, preparing meals, education, faith and religion, recreation, and more. 

alman co 24
Benjamin Alman, MD, chair, orthopaedic surgery department

The chair of the Duke orthopaedic surgery department, Benjamin Alman, MD, told the graduating class that they might wonder why a department of orthopaedic surgery would start an occupational therapy program. “I am a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, and I’m here to tell you that we do some things to help patients with surgery, but the most important aspects of helping patients survive in their environment and improve their lives come from the treatments deployed by occupational therapists. Always remember that you play a critical role in people’s lives.”

He continued, “You took a pioneering step in 2021. You are the very first class to graduate from the occupational therapy doctorate program at Duke University. It is also the 100th anniversary of Duke. All of you took a chance on this fantastic program. The achievements accomplished so far are amazing. The world changes rapidly. When you first started, we were mired in COVID. You adapted to your environment. You came with the right mindset to make that happen, so we expect incredible things to happen due to your drive and accomplishments.”

The ceremony next featured graduating students’ reflections about their OTD journey at Duke.

jisun kim co 24
Jisun Kim, OTD

In her daily gratitude journal, Jisun Kim shared an August 2021 entry: “I think I am in good company. The good company turned into a good community that learned and grew together.”

“Together, we completed 560 clinical practice hours, 560 hours of our doctoral capstone projects, and transitioned from students to entry-level practitioners. I have to say that the energy here reminds me of our start three years ago. We have a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. There will still be moments of uncertainty but never lose sight of who you are. Look at what we have accomplished. Hold on to these successes and be sure to choose curiosity over judgment, community over competition, and progress over perfection.“

sydney co 24
Sydney Ross, OTD

Next, Sydney Ross shared, “Reflecting on our time together, I noted a common thread that connected us all, and I hope this thread will carry us into our future careers. This thread is a vision of possibility. As the inaugural class, we could feel the anxiety of the unknown surrounding us. However, the sense of hope in the face of the unknown was palpable, but it was not a novel idea for us as occupational therapy students. We were introduced to the vision of possibility in our first ‘Enabling Occupations’ class. We must always see the potential in the individuals we work with. The vision of possibility is why we are all sitting here today.”

As the ceremony progressed, Dr. Hooper elucidated the meaning and granting of the doctoral shawl. “The shawl is a garment with global origins and symbolism that celebrates the crossing of the threshold. Today, you cross the threshold into the community of occupational therapy. We celebrate your crossing into OT by granting the doctoral shawl as a sign of your emerging knowledge and giftedness. It is a joyful symbol welcoming the great gifts within you. You now wear the knowledge, skills, and insights that define your distinct profession.”

faison co 24
Tomeico Faison, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery

The graduates excitedly welcomed Tomeico Faison, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, to the podium to address the graduating class. “I love that we are making noise at this ceremony. It is a time of celebration and inspiration. You are an inspiration to our community. You have committed to serving people with impairments that restrict them from engaging in meaningful occupations. Your skill set will positively change lives. We are so very proud of you.”

View a replay of the commencement ceremony.

Video by Jim Rogalski, multimedia producer in the Office of Strategic Communications.