UNC School of Medicine students honor Larry Keith at 2010 Graduation

A new class of medical students became doctors on Saturday, May 8. Their graduation ceremony took place at 2 p.m. in the Dean E. Smith Center. Several hundred friends and family members were there to cheer for the 140 new doctors.

The ceremony was more somber than usual this year with the marked absence of a loved faculty member – Mr. Larry Keith. Keith, who was assistant dean of admissions, associate director of Office of Educational Development and director of special programs in the School of Medicine, passed away in February after a long battle with cancer. An empty chair among the faculty seats on stage served as a reminder of the place Keith would have sat.

Dr. William Roper, dean of the School of Medicine, told the graduating students to act upon the values Keith espoused. “I can think of no better tribute to him than for all of us to serve our patients with the dignity and the respect they deserve, to do our part to eliminate health disparities in our respective fields, and to take an active role in distilling these values in the next generation of physicians,” he said. “He has passed the torch and now it’s time to see it through.”

The class did just that, in fact, by designating their class gift of $4,000 to the Larry D. Keith Medical Alumni Loyalty Fund Scholarship.

Dr. Robert Bashford, professor of psychiatry, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and associate dean of Student Affairs was chosen by the students to give the commencement address. Bashford, too, encouraged students to honor Keith’s memory by sharing the lessons he’d learned from Keith through years of work together. “I think his most important gift came in the area of fairness,” he said. “I thought I understood fair. Larry believed and lived fair with absolute accountability. So I charge you to hold yourselves and your patients accountable.”

Bashford also had some words of wisdom of his own. “No matter what personal or imposed roadblocks of insurance or paperwork, that time with your patient is a sanctuary.” Bashford used several very funny, personal stories to give students four pieces of advice: care for your patients as family members would, take time to make sure your patients understand what you’re telling them, remember that there is always a person behind a disease and, finally, acknowledge your mistakes.

Of the 140 students who graduated Saturday, 137 of them will be going on to residency programs in June. Forty-nine of these students will remain in North Carolina for their programs.

Please click here to read about the awards presented at graduation.

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