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Connie Scavuzzo, MA
The Illinois College of Optometry held its 178th Commencement on May 15th for 132 students who became doctors during the College's first on-campus ceremony.
After a long year of many hardships, it was with much joy that we welcomed ICO's Class of 2021 back to campus for Commencement. While adhering to pandemic restrictions meant we could not invite families and guests, the entire ceremony was live-streamed to allow everyone a chance to share in the excitement of the day.
"It was wonderful to see everyone back on campus," said Mark K. Colip, OD '92, ICO's President. "I'm delighted that we could hold a ceremony for these students who have persevered through so many challenges."
It has been four years since this class sat together in the lecture center to receive their white clinic coat at the beginning of their 1st year. Now receiving their doctoral hood, the room was brimming with nervous excitement. In a show of ICO spirit, Class of 2021 and ICO facemasks were part of this year’s regalia. As an in-person, and live-streamed event, every member of this class was recognized, even if they were unable to join us on campus.
Dr. Colip welcomed everyone "It is such a culmination and celebration of so many accomplishments in everyone's lives. Certainly for the Class of 2021, but also for the loved ones, relatives, and friends who have supported you each and every step of your journey," he began. "You persevered. No one ever told you that it would be easy…and yet, here you are today. The sacrifices have been many, but doesn't that make the celebration that much sweeter? The rewards will be even more abundant and will span the rest of your lives."
Class of 2021 requested that the commencement address be given by Gary A. Lesher, PhD, FAAO, Professor Emeritus who taught pharmacology at ICO for over 35 years. These were the last students that Dr. Lesher taught before his retirement in 2019. A professor of pharmacology and toxicology and Assistant Dean for Didactic Education, Dr. Lesher taught more than 5,000 students the many nuances and complexities of pharmacology.
His commencement address did not disappoint those who remember Dr. Lesher's love for national parks, his drug-related cartoons and "drug of the day" questions, and his "Jeopardy" game at the end of each year. He even used a PowerPoint presentation to "quiz" the members of the graduating class during his speech.
Dr. Lesher congratulated the class for excelling in every aspect of their education. "During this pandemic, you have adjusted, adapted, pivoted, and simply done whatever you needed to do to continue your training in the face of unprecedented difficulties." He continued, explaining the importance of pharmacology, especially now that COVID-19 vaccines are available. "In no time in history has it been more apparent that understanding pharmacology is critical to our everyday lives," he said.
Dr. Lesher concluded his message with these words of encouragement: "You can be the best. Keep learning. Work to improve your clinical skills. Treat each patient as an individual, and respect everyone."
After the Doctor of Optometry degree was conferred upon the graduates, they received a warm welcome into the ICO Alumni Association by the Vice President of the Alumni Council, Casey Hogan, OD '97. "May you always look to ICO as I do, with a smile and a fondness that guides you back to visit and stay connected, not only with your classmates and friends, but the many other colleagues you have yet to meet, those who have sat in these seats here before you and those who will do so after you," she stated. "As time passes, you will reflect on your years at ICO and realize that the foundation this College has given you is truly invaluable."
Congratulations, Class of 2021!