Friday, May 1, 2015

Singapore Graduation Ceremony & Alumni Weekend

Salus University Singapore Graduation Ceremony
I just returned from a wonderful trip to Singapore to officiate at what turned out to be our first official graduation ceremony for Salus Singaporean students (say that three times fast) earning their Master of Science degree in Clinical Optometry.

Salus University Alumni ReceptionGraduation ceremonies are chock full of many traditions that are well worth duplicating half a world away for such important celebrations. We're about to do the same on a much larger scale here in Philadelphia in a few weeks. We also decided to start the tradition of Singapore alumni receptions, and we planned our first one for the evening of the graduation ceremony. The reception was attended by members from all five graduating classes. What was striking to me, as well as the others who were traveling with me, was that our Singaporean students and alumni really appreciated the fact that we took the time and effort to conduct the graduation ceremony and then co-host the alumni event later that evening. They couldn't thank us enough. I told our hosts that it is generally considered a tradition to celebrate these types of events with pomp and circumstance as well as to have opportunities for alumni to get together to renew friendships and experiences. One could feel the excitement and pride in our Singaporean contingent, so much so that they've asked us to pledge to do this every two years. From my perspective, it was pretty cool to see the faces on our graduates' and their families' faces when they walked across the stage, as well as to watch everyone socialize later that evening. It was truly a successful evolution.

So, now to this tradition thing. We also celebrate these traditions here at Salus. Graduations occur twice annually and enable us to celebrate our students' academic accomplishments. We also have an annual alumni reunion to help continue to foster the bond between all of us. It's my belief that our alumni are the glue that helps to hold Salus together. As we grow new cadres of alumni in our newer specialties, I'm hoping that a true tradition of participation and inter-professional education and interaction becomes ingrained in our institutional DNA. 

From looking at alumni participation in some of our events, I don't believe that's the case today. Everyone gets so busy with everything else they have to do, I think it's easy to lose sight of the importance of maintaining or even developing new traditions as a University family. University traditions are important, as I believe they help to bind us as a University community both while here as students and later as alumni. 

We don't have a football or basketball team to draw us to an event but we do have alumni reunions, receptions, commencements and other events that do. I'm a strong advocate for participation in these to foster professional camaraderie as well as pride in our alma mater. These are all traditions that greatly matter. As Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof said, "Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof!" Let's not ignore those traditions that can serve us so well - lest we risk becoming that shaky fiddler on the roof. 

Happy Alumni Weekend!


  1. Can't wait to attend an event like this.. A few more years to go

  2. Dr. Mittelman,

    As a somewhat recent graduate of Salus (PCO class of 2010) and a member of the alumni association, your recent blog on the reunion attendance in Singapore caught my attention. I enjoy reading your blogs from time to time - it allows me to attempt to keep up with the happenings at Salus while living over seven hours away. I felt that I have some insights into the thinking of alumni when it comes to these gatherings - of course, these thoughts are my own and by and large only apply to optometry.

    It has been my experience that the majority of students at Salus fail to hold the school in high esteem. It does not engender itself as a place where memories are made - rather, it has been my experience that it is viewed as a tool to reach one's ultimate goals. Certainly there are personal relationships that stand the test of time; I would dare say that the majority remain fairly shallow as we are all too aware that most of us will scatter around the country within a few years.

    Secondly, optometry by and large has lacked the unifying battles of the past that have brought the profession together. The political fights with ophthalmology have by and large been relegated to the back burner, save for a few scope-of-practice issues that occasionally spring up. Modern optometry is now largely focused on battling vision care plans and their soul-crushingly low fees, conglomerates such as Luxottica and Essilor exerting significant forces on the market, and the ever increasing number of optometry graduates. To the first two points, there is hardly a school in the country that does not have a wing, lab, room, or building donated in large part by one of these aforementioned companies. Does this engender schools to practicing ODs? Likewise, as schools continue to multiply and produce more graduates the rank-and-file OD is less likely to support an institution that they view as the root cause of the over-supply issue.

    Lastly, the sheer cost of attending alumni weekend is prohibitive to many. The logistics of a long drive or flight with a young family is made even more unattractive knowing the cost of attendance of the evening, lodging, etc. This is made doubly difficult as I make it a point to attend the preceptor's fair which is traditionally held the week prior to alumni weekend. The ability to travel far from home on two consecutive weekends is not feasible.

    Alumni must feel engaged and united to Salus - it is not enough for us to hear from a representative or student only during times of fundraising. I write this response not to pile on Salus. I want Salus to be better, and I believe that it must be better if it is to stay relevant in the face of changes affecting the world of healthcare.

    Thank you once again for all of your hard work and efforts on behalf of the greater Salus community. I look forward to reading your future writings!

    Ryan McKinnis O.D. FAAO
    PCO Class of 2010

  3. Dear Dr. McKinnis,

    Thanks so much for your very thoughtful response. I couldn't agree more with your conclusions. We've recognized the fact that it's expensive to travel and that we may not even be picking the right time of the year for the reunion. I've asked our alumni office to survey our alumni to see what might work better but also to see how we can consolidate as many events as feasible during the same time. I wasn't aware that we asked preceptors to come a week prior to the alumni weekend - that makes no sense to me at all!

    We're trying to build more of an "esprits de corps" amongst our alumni but as you mention, this is difficult. Interestingly enough I find our other professions tend to "bond" more with the university than some of our optometry alumni which is both disturbing and surprising to me given the fact that our faculty work extremely hard to ensure all of our graduates receive nothing but the best education possible.

    To your point that there is a lack of a "rallying point" for the profession, I would agree, to a point. While optometrists don't have the obvious legislative battles with optometry, those legislative imperatives still do exist. Medicare parity, inclusion in V.A. residency programs and the National Health Care Corps loan repayment program are extremely important issues for optometry. We are also getting ready to launch a new initiative at Salus for optometrists to increase their scope of practice to include the treatment and management of metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, etc. that I'm certain will cause some stir in the usual circles. It's my intention that Salus leads the way on this which may take the place of the discussions we had years ago about use diagnostic and therapeutic agents. Hopefully that can help create the necessary buzz and excitement to help motivate our alumni.

    I'm open to any and all suggestions as we really want to serve as the true academic home for all of our graduates and want them to feel comfortable in both working with us and helping guide the university's direction.

    Again, thanks so much for your comments. They're extremely helpful.

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