After a unique medical school experience, Pritzker’s 'COVID class' receives their MDs

Members of Pritzker School of Medicine's Class of 2024 make their way into Rockefeller Memorial Chapel May 24 for their division academic ceremony.
Members of Pritzker School of Medicine's Class of 2024 make their way into Rockefeller Memorial Chapel May 24 for their division academic ceremony.
They had a medical school experience like no other class in history, and it came to a close on May 24, when 92 University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine students received their medical degrees during a division academic ceremony at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Eighty graduate students from the Biological Sciences Division will receive their PhDs and 62 more will receive master’s degrees during a separate ceremony May 31. Convocation for the University’s other divisions and schools will take place June 1.

Pritzker’s Class of 2024 entered medical school during the hectic, early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, arriving on campus in the fall of 2020 to strict masking and social-distancing rules. Their White Coat Ceremony, a welcoming ritual, was delayed by two years as a result.

Undeterred, Pritzker students quickly jumped in to help the University of Chicago Medicine health system and the South Side community deal with the deadliest public health pandemic in a century. Students distributed COVID testing kits and masks, assisted with vaccine scheduling, staffed community clinics and more — all while attending medical school via Zoom or while adhering to COVID precautions.

“You exercised remarkable courage and character to reach today’s milestone,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former chief medical advisor to seven U.S. presidents, to the graduating class.

Members of Pritzker School of Medicine's Class of 2024 listen to keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Fauci during their division academic ceremony May 24.

Pritzker students voted unanimously to invite Fauci to serve as keynote speaker at their graduation. To their surprise and delight, he accepted. Given COVID’s profound impact on their four years of medical school, the class felt it was fitting to hear from a speaker who guided the country through the pandemic, said graduate and Pritzker Chief Melinique Walls Castellanos.

“We aimed for the stars,” Walls Castellanos said. “We wanted to have him because he helped shape our education.”

In his speech, Fauci shared four lessons he learned during his 50-year career and encouraged the future doctors to follow suit: shine light on health disparities; champion science and science literacy; pay attention to, but don’t participate in, the divisiveness of our society; and make time for family and friends while pursuing your career.

A Pritzker graduate shakes hands with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the keynote speaker at the division academic ceremony.

Fauci, like all of the ceremony’s speakers, praised the students for their hard work, commitment to healthcare equality and scientific research. He shook each of their hands after they received their ceremonial green hoods.

“The research they’ve done is impeccable, and part of that is because it was informed by COVID,” said Pritzker’s Dean for Medical Education Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP. “They have been advocates through and through.”

The students will now begin their residency training at hospitals around the country.

Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine, expressed pride in this class and affirmed their potential to make a profound impact.

“You’re a resilient and remarkable group,” Anderson said.

To see the list of Pritzker School of Medicine Class of 2024 Awards, click here. To see the Biological Sciences PhD Awards, click here.