Rodney R. Parry, M.D., the former dean of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, told USD graduates that their soon-to-be alma mater is not resting on its laurels as it celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
"Today, the university, while celebrating 150 years, is actually developing a new long range plan for commitment to education," said Parry, the keynote speaker at USD's 125th annual commencement exercises held Saturday in the DakotaDome. "During a review of the expanded vision statement, President (James) Abbott state, 'USD exists for great students.' With a promise like that to our students, success of this institution going forward is assured."
In the meantime, life moves forward, and history is created, Parry said.
"Today at the university, graduates will receive the first masters of social work degrees ever granted in South Dakota," he said. "And, there will be graduates from USD's newly developed health sciences program. You will also meet vice president of health affairs, Dr. Mary Nettleman, the first dean of the MD-degree granting school from outside of South Dakota, and one of the few female deans of medicine in the United States."
Graduation is day of looking forward, and looking back, Parry said, "but today is also a time to look inside. Graduates, you may be asking yourselves if you can achieve your goals given the culture in which we live.
"Yes, you can," he said. "You have been given the knowledge, experience and capacity to succeed in your chosen careers. President Abbott recently reflected that you, the USD students, are the kind of people we would hope you to be."
A native of Canistota, Parry became the 13th dean of the medical school in 2004. He retired as dean of the Sanford School of Medicine last June, however, remained dean on an interim basis until April 1, 2012.
Parry was a member of the medical school faculty for 35 years and also served as president of the South Dakota State Medical Association in 1998. In 2008, he was presented with the South Dakota State Medical Association Presidential Award and from 1986 to 2004, Parry served as the director of the USD Cystic Fibrosis Center.
He was also chair, Medical School Section, American Medical Association from 2007-2008. Parry received an undergraduate degree in pharmacy at South Dakota State University in 1965 and a B.S. in medicine from USD in 1967. He earned his M.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1969.
A question remains, Parry said to the graduated in the audience Saturday morning. "What will you contribute back to society?" he asked.
He used an example from the university's department of health affairs to reflect upon that query.
"The school of medicine has a robust body donation program," Parry said. "Individuals, who are in reality our greatest teachers, share their remains so that health affairs students at the university and students enrolled in many other programs across the state can prepare to be better healers, scientists and educators."
Parry said he and another medical school official had an opportunity several years ago to visit with many family members of the medical school's body donors.
"During these visits, wonderful stories were shared about each of the donors," he said. "We heard about hobbies, jobs, contributions to music and sports, passions and jokes, separations and reunions, occasional struggles and many successes.
"In every case, it was clear that these individuals wanted to make the world a better place for all of us, Parry said.
"It is true that understanding the anatomy of the human body forms the basis for much of medicine. However, it became clear through the stories that were shared that life is more about living and dying. It's more than minds and bodies," he said. "After listening to the families, the physical and mental attributes seem only to be the framework of human existence. It is the spirit, compassion, memory and souls of every individual that provides the vivid hues of humanity."
Parry shared a quote from the author Allen Shawn: "The planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many drops of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote 25 pages to the dissection of a small boy's feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him good night."
"Graduates of 2012, we need you," he said.