Even the dean got emotional at the University of Utah's School of Medicine graduation, pausing briefly before announcing huskily that he accepted the graduates with all the rights, privileges and honors that their degrees conferred on them.

Perhaps Dean John Matsen was reminded of the day when he was one of those students waiting to get a diploma. Noticeably proud, Matsen told the crowd that the Utah students in this class had received higher scores on their medical college test than any other class in any state.Roughly half of the more than 200 graduates at Kingsbury Hall were receiving their medical degree Saturday.

"You are surrounded by people who hoped, prayed, and in many cases, paid, to get you this far," keynote speaker Daniel Lowenstein told the grads. Lowenstein, a professor of neurology at University of California San Francisco, wondered aloud how he could relate to the students, whom he had never met.

"What if I said I was from Montana?" he asked, drawing a cheer from one native of the Big Sky country. "What if I said I had a pierced tongue?"

In the end, Lowenstein captured the audience's attention by telling them that, doctor or not, they would have to show their humanity when relating to others to get the most of life.

"One of the most fundamental aspects of being a doctor is to develop the ability to listen," he said. "To listen closely for a pattern in a patient's story, to unearth the meaning in their story that will help you renew a patient's health or lessen their suffering."

Lowenstein told about watching his father die from Lou Gehrig's disease, of finally diagnosing it, but not being able to change the irreversible degeneration.

"It is we, as physicians, who must construct the balance of reality and hope," he said, admitting that he tries to err on the side of hope when diagnosing patients. He said he felt a peace the day his father died, as he reminisced under the sunset.

Lowenstein apologized for the somber mood his story brought to the audience, telling them that as a teacher, he had one last wish for them before they moved on in their lives. He asked the grads to "share with the most important people, to say the things we often save for sad transitions, final moments, or never say at all."

Ninety-four of the graduates received their medical degree Saturday. The basic sciences and public health disciplines had 119 graduates, and 15 students got their degree in medical lab science/cytotechnology or university studies.

The U. School of Medicine was established in 1904. The fledgling school grew into a two-year program during the next 40 years, said John Dwan, public affairs spokesman. The first four-year class graduated in 1944.

Today, the med school has about 400 students and is considered a major school, Dwan said.