Veterinary medicine grads urged to embrace 'world of opportunities' before them

University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine Students celebrate their graduation

College of Veterinary Medicine graduating students celebrate after becoming Doctors of Veterinary Medicine

Chris Richards/University Communications

Hundreds gathered on Thursday to see University of Arizona history in the making when the College of Veterinary Medicine hosted its inaugural Commencement ceremony. More than 100 students were awarded Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees, marking the end of three years of hard work and the beginning of their professional careers.

College dean Julie Funk thanked the students at the Commencement ceremony for their resilience and willingness to adapt over the last three years – not only to the expected growing pains that come with a new college but navigating online learning during their first year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"On behalf of the faculty and staff, I want to share how proud we are of your accomplishments," Funk said. "An inaugural class graduation is a special milestone. It also fulfills the dreams of the University of Arizona and the many communities, stakeholders and partners that have supported our college on this journey. We are deeply grateful and excited to celebrate this milestone with the entire community, and we cannot wait to see what this inaugural class of Vet Cat veterinarians achieves as you progress in your careers."

The state's first and only public veterinary medicine program, the college launched in 2020 and offers an innovative curriculum designed for students to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in three years. Most veterinary medicine programs in the United States require students to study and train at least four years. The college also uses an active learning approach to education that focuses on providing students with hands-on experience with live animals as early as possible.

Funk said that by earning their degrees, each of the graduates demonstrated a deep understanding of animal biology, genetics, nutrition and diseases, and they are "well-equipped to diagnose and treat a wide range of animal species."

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins and College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Julie Funk pose with the college's first graduating class after the Aug. 24 Commencement

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins and College of Veterinary Medicine dean Julie Funk pose with the college's first graduating class after the Aug. 24 Commencement.

Chris Richards/University Communications

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins congratulated the graduating students on their accomplishments and thanked them for "paving the way for the University of Arizona to become a leader in veterinary medicine."

"No matter what you go on to do with your lives, I want everyone in this class to remember you know how to keep pressing forward to make the world a better place," Robbins said during the ceremony, which was held in The Linda Ronstadt Music Hall at the Tucson Convention Center. "I know you will go on to do amazing things."

As of Commencement, about half of the College of Veterinary Medicine graduates had secured internships or jobs with corporations or private practices.

Addressing the crowd in Spanish, Alex Ramirez, the college's associate dean for academic programs and faculty affairs, told students to embrace the world of opportunities opening before them and use the lessons and skills they learned over the last three years to forge successful futures as veterinarians.

"Mientras abracen el deseo de ser los mejores veterinarios que ustedes puedan ser, mientras mantengan el esfuerzo y la ética en el trabajo el éxito está asegurado," Ramirez said. ("As long as you embrace the desire to be the best veterinarian you can be, as long as you maintain your effort and work ethic, success is assured.")

Despite starting their academic journey during COVID restrictions, the college's inaugural class was in the classroom for their second year.

Graduate Arianna Adams, who was selected as the Commencement student speaker, said her second year at the college "flew by in the blink of an eye" as she and her classmates moved from online learning to classrooms. Adams said in her second year she began learning the ins and outs of the profession: making case-by-case decisions, learning surgery and expanding her specific interests ahead of the third year, which is a clinical year.

Third-year students work with nearly a dozen different partner clinics throughout the country on a four-week rotation, giving students the opportunity to become knowledge sponges "and absorb everything we are exposed to," Adams said.

Adams called the clinical year experience a "whirlwind of emotions and experiences that set us up to be successful."

She will continue her career journey with a yearlong small animal internship at Gilbert Queen Creek Emergency Veterinarian & Pet Urgent Care in Phoenix's East Valley.

"We are not the same people that we were when we started this program three years ago," Adams said during her speech. "We laughed, we cried, we screamed, we complained, and we were excited. … There are two things I want you to remember before leaving here today: Never forget how you got here, but most importantly, never forget that despite everything, you did it."