Physical therapy students celebrate success at the Katherine Harris White Coat Ceremony

December 18, 2021

Students receive their white coats.

Uniforms can transform us, and the Quinnipiac Physical Therapy Class of 2022 became the health care providers they aspired to during the Katherine Harris White Coat Ceremony on Friday.

Dean of the School of Health Sciences and Professor of Biomedical Sciences Janelle Chiasera, PhD, opened the program with warm welcoming remarks.

Before introducing the first speaker of the night, Chair and Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy Ken Kosior reflected on the challenges students experienced during their time at Quinnipiac.

“From the never-ending pandemic to personal loss, this group has risen to reach every challenge. Please know your impact on and progression of this program is just the beginning. I’m excited for all that lies ahead for you,” he said.

Nicole Mawhirter ’22 spoke about what the white coat represented in the medical field.

“It acts as a cloak of compassion, symbolizing the care and kindness patients wish to receive from doctors,” she said. “We should [strive] to provide person-centered, evidence-based care.”

Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Katherine Harris extolled these and many more values to her students, patients and peers, recalled Mawhirter. Harris passed away on April 12, 2020.

“Her values included leadership, lifelong learning, self-growth and reflection. She stressed the importance of being ethical to patients and each other. We miss her dearly and all so thankful for many ways she advanced program,” said Mawhirter. “Our class wishes to celebrate her legacy.”

Later in the evening, the Katherine Harris Professional Development Fund was introduced. Its mission is to commemorate Harris’ devotion to the profession by sponsoring development activities, continued education, conferences and speaker visits for Quinnipiac’s physical therapy community. The fund already received $1,500 in donations.

The night’s keynote speaker was Alan Balavender, president of Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Center (PTSMC). PTSMC sponsored the ceremony along with AccessPT and Bay State Physical Therapy.

Balavender spoke of Harris and encouraged members of the graduating class to reflect on time they spent with her.

“In the next day or two, tell that story to a friend or family member. If you’re not the kind of person to share something like this, keep it in your heart,” he said.

Balavender meditated on the success of the Class of 2022 and the importance of appreciating the people in their journey.

“The first person: When winds got strong, people who made your journey easier. The second person: When mud got deep, someone who was right beside you, and you knew if you couldn’t make last steps, they could carry you. The third person is the voice behind you saying you can do it, and I got your back,” he said.

“If you keep these people in your life, you will be OK. If you become someone like that, you know you made it.”

Faculty speaker and Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Katherine Grevelding shared proud moments and candid anecdotes of the ways to embarrass oneself in the virtual classroom.

“It’s a tall task to highlight the ways your group has grown over the years. You’ve shown selfless leadership as part of the pro bono clinic, provided community education, led classes for your instructors and peers, worked with professors, been mentors for peers following in your steps, brought forward your own ideas, and advocated for members of your own community,” she said.

Grevelding encouraged students to appreciate their experience, their peers and themselves. This also means appreciating when it is time to move on, she said.

“Continue to be curious and create your own legacy. Your potential has no boundaries, and you’re not alone in this continued journey,” said Grevelding. “You are always part of the QUPT family, and we are always here for each other.”

Before the official Cloaking of the Class of 2022, student speaker Shane Wunderli addressed the crowd. Wunderli is heavily involved in campus organizations and acted as the Graduate Physical Therapy Club Program Chair.

He shared travails of learning physically therapy virtually, along with moments of doubt made more profound by the COVID pandemic. Through his continued studies and camaraderie, Wunderli began to trust in physical therapy as the right profession for him.

“Like many of us, I’m doing this because of my passion to help people to achieve rehabilitation. I felt reward in finding passion for what I do,” he said.

Though the journey for the Class of ’22 is just beginning, Wunderli shared how Quinnipiac profoundly shaped the first steps.

“When my brother and I left for college, my 93-year-old grandfather told us that whatever we learn up here, no one can take away from you,” he said, touching his head. “Thank you for your support for me and that you’ve shown each other. These memories will always stay up here, and they can never be taken away from me.”

The ceremony concluded with the students standing to recite the Oath of a Physical Therapist.

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