Duke Physician Assistant Program Hosts Virtual Graduation Ceremony and Drive-Through Certificate Presentation


The Duke Physician Assistant (PA) Program held its graduation and certificate ceremony on Aug. 21, with a live-streamed ceremony.  

Initially scheduled to take place in Duke Chapel, program leadership knew they could not re-create the feeling of a celebration in such an iconic location. Instead, they tried to find unique ways to honor each of the 89 students. 

Referred to as the "legacy class" for the unusual ending to their PA education, students contributed a photo of themselves and quote to display on the screen during their special moment. Some quotes were poignant and some funny, but each told more than walking across a stage ever could. 

In her opening remarks, Program Director Jacqueline Barnett, DHSc, MHS, PA-C, thought back to the first day for this class in 2018.  

"No one on this earth had any idea back then the journey that the Duke PA Class of 2020 would face and the seismic impact of COVID-19 as it changed every aspect of our experiences right as you were in the middle of your clinical year. [. . .] This class leaves a legacy of humanism and grace that will be remembered and recited for years to come.”

Dr. Jacqui Barnett hands out certificate to decorated carBecause the program cannot award the physical certificates through Zoom, they also offered a drive-through graduation event during the evening. Faculty and staff donned masks and spaced themselves throughout the program's parking lot to greet the graduates as they drove through to receive their certificates and awards. The socially distanced crowd of Duke Blue cheered while holding homemade signs, pompoms, and at least one tambourine.


This year, the following PA students were inducted into Pi Alpha, the national PA honor society:

  • Megan Brown 
  • Alice Curchin
  • Benjamin Garfinkel 
  • Alissa Kirby 
  • Kyleigh Lavigne 
  • Katherine Monjaras 
  • Rachel O'Keefe 
  • Laura Okolie 
  • Sally Pohlman 
  • Kailey Redding
  • Miriam Rollason 
  • Benjamin Thompson
  • Maria Trescony 
  • Jessica Veale 

PA Faculty and Staff at Drive Through GraduationIn addition, Susan Hibbard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family medicine and community health, and Sandro Pinheiro Oliveira, Ph.D., M.A., MRE, associate professor of medicine, were inducted to Pi Alpha as faculty members.

The Scheele award, established by the Duke PA program in 1970 recognizes alumnus Richard J. Scheele. Associate Program Director April Stouder, MHS, PA-C, introduced Sally Pohlman as the recipient for the Class of 2020 and elaborated on its meaning. "This honor is given each year to a student who exhibited the qualities of professionalism and academic excellence during the course of their training over the past two years."

Alicia Bolden, MPH, DMedSc, announced Jessica Veale as the winner of the Joyce C. Nichols Award. Nichols, the first woman and the first Black physician assistant, was a tireless advocate for the poor and underserved. Bolden explained it is given each year to "the member of the graduating class who most displays the qualities of service, advocacy and humanitarianism." 

PA student Rachel Solomon presented Melinda Blazar, MHS, PA-C, with the Henry “Buddy” Lee Treadwell Award on behalf of the Class of 2020. The class chose Blazar for her "courageous leadership throughout the many challenges that 2020 brought upon us during unprecedented times when there were more questions than answers and there was looming uncertainty in the future of our clinical year."  The award is named after Treadwell, who greatly influenced the vision of Eugene A. Stead Jr., M.D., for PA education and function. Stead founded the Duke Physician Assistant Program and the profession. 

The Class of 2020 awarded Kate Holeman the Stead Society’s Outstanding Staff Award. Speaking for the class, student Katherine Hauler said, "Kate's commitment to our learning has been especially highlighted this year. The COVID pandemic require major reworking of all our clinical schedules. The entire team rose to the occasion and we know that Kate dedicated countless hours, including nights and weekends to ensuring that we all received clinical reassignments." 

Congratulations to the Duke Physician Assistant Program Class of 2020.