A celebration of accomplishments and new beginnings filled Kingsbury Hall Saturday as the University of Utah School of Medicine conducted its 2008 commencement ceremonies.

More than 260 students were awarded diplomas for completing studies to earn undergraduate, Master of Science, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Friends and family of the robed graduates cheered them as each received a final handshake.

David J. Bjorkman, dean of the School of Medicine, lauded the advancing students and asked them not to forget the significance of the work they had done.

"I know each of you are aware that your personal journey as a medical professional has just begun. You have willingly chosen a profession where you will work harder, learn more and experience more joy and frustration than any other career in the world," Bjorkman said. "At this time, I encourage you to reflect back on your time at this medical school ... the experience and lessons you have learned here will have prepared you well for the challenges ahead."

Perhaps none of the students is as aware of challenges met and surmounted as Dr. Becky Kroll. Kroll, a 51-year-old mother of three, had the distinction of being the only graduate on Saturday who has a son, Nick Kroll, completing his first year at the U.'s medical school.

Kroll took the time to raise a family after graduating from Idaho State University in 1979. After dealing with serious medical conditions experienced by her young daughter, and later herself, Kroll was altered by her exposure to the doctors who provided them treatment.

"I began to see that it's quite a profound role that (a doctor) can play in a person's life," Kroll said.

Those seeds, sown 17 years ago, came to fruition Saturday. How that dream remained alive seems to boil down to Kroll's tenacity and pragmatic approach.

"I think for me to have held a goal for such a long time in my mind and heart ... I had to live a balanced life and address the things that were first priority, first," Kroll said. "As time went on, priorities change from either necessity or because you fulfilled a commitment. For me, that first commitment was raising my children, and once I felt like I had completed that ... sending my last child off to college, then I could turn my attention to my next set of goals ... applying to and entering medical school."

Kroll said she was reminded of that decision in a letter she recently received from her father. As she completed some prerequisites for submitting her medical school application, she told her father that she knew for sure that this is what she wanted and was committed to pursuing it until she found success. Her father's response was, "Honey, do you know how old you're going to be when you're done?" to which Kroll responded, "Dad, I'm going to be that age anyway." Kroll said her father laughed and told her, "We're behind you all the way."

Kroll offered this advice, and encouragement, to others who may be considering a nontraditional return to academia.

"If something is worth giving your life to, putting your efforts into, it's worth continuing the search to arrive at that goal," Kroll said. "Persistence is always part of the mix . . . if you feel like you have a dream that is, maybe, bigger than what you thought you might be able to attempt, the dream sort of nudges you along."

Kroll heads for Salinas, Calif., Monday where she will begin her family practice residency at Natividad Medical Center.

The Class of 2008's co-president, Dr. Joseph Mortenson, noted the next rigorous phase for Saturday's graduating physicians, sharing advice he had received from friends in residency programs.

"Compared to anything else you have done thus far, your residency will be the most difficult and rewarding time of your life, so, enjoy the moment."

After the ceremony, Mortenson, a Layton resident, said that he was looking forward to the challenge and felt ready for it.

"Now, we're getting to what we came for," Mortenson said. "We've prepared four years for this."

Saturday was also a day for proud parents. Farmington resident Curt Vernon was in attendance in recognition of his daughter's completion of a Master of Science program. Valoree Vernon received her M.S. in public health, and dad was beaming following the commencement.

"This is a great day," Vernon said. "One of the greatest days of my life."

E-mail: [email protected]