The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has welcomed 124 new students who will spend the next four years pursuing their dreams to become veterinarians.

The Class of 2019 includes artists and musicians, a competitive swimmer, a pair of identical twins, two siblings of current veterinary students, and a former technician from the college’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. It also contains 80 Virginia and Maryland residents and 44 out-of-state students that came to the college with a 3.5 average grade point average.

On Friday, Aug. 21, in front of approximately 500 students, family, friends, guests, faculty, and staff, the incoming students participated in a “white coat” ceremony at the Inn at Virginia Tech. The ceremony followed four days of orientation activities.

Speaking at the ceremony, Cyril Clarke, dean of the veterinary college, said, “This important event marks and celebrates the induction of trainee veterinarians into a very distinguished profession, a profession that was founded on service to society and advancement of medical knowledge.” He emphasized that students had been given a rare opportunity to become a veterinarian.

Students received a white laboratory coat and a stethoscope to mark their transition into the profession and were welcomed by representatives from the Virginia and Maryland Veterinary Medical Associations.

Earlier in the week, first-year students completed orientation activities designed to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. In addition to lectures, tours, and presentations at the college, students visited the Alta Mons campground in Shawsville, Virginia, for a day of team-building exercises designed to boost their leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills.

The college welcomed the Class of 2019 following a highly competitive application process. More than 1,200 prospective students applied for admission, representing the second largest applicant pool in North America, according to figures from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The first-year students join the college with a wealth of life experiences and skills. Evymarie Prado-Sanchez of San Juan, Puerto Rico, became interested in veterinary medicine in high school after participating in research projects at a nearby university. Designed to encourage high school students to attend college, these opportunities introduced Prado-Sanchez to professors and scientists who inspired a love for research.

“I was born and raised on farms in Puerto Rico and have always been around animals, but I didn’t decide on veterinary medicine until I was working on research,” said Prado-Sanchez, who completed her bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, and spent a semester abroad at Michigan State University. “The versatility of the profession and the fact that I can incorporate my love of technology into one career made it perfect.”

Prado-Sanchez is considering the college’s public and corporate veterinary medicine track and hopes to pursue research opportunities during her four years on campus.

Jennifer Rolley of Williamsburg, Virginia, has been reunited with her sister Jessica Rolley, a fourth-year veterinary student. They are among four sisters who all attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and all entered biology-related fields.

“After college, I worked for a few years before going to veterinary school,” said Jennifer Rolley, whose other sisters include a nurse and a midwife. “I ended up at a specialty hospital in Richmond working for a small animal internist.”

Not only are she and her sister living together in Blacksburg, but their dogs — a French bulldog and a Chihuahua — have been reunited as well. They have been animal lovers from a young age, both citing early experiences in rescue shelters with their aunt as influencing their decision to become veterinarians. The younger sister has already been getting tips from her older sister about succeeding in veterinary school.

“Her advice has been less academic and more lifestyle-oriented like keeping up with your physical and mental health and making sure you’re in a good place to do well in your studies,” said Jennifer Rolley, who, like her sister, is considering the small animal track. The two siblings play tennis together in the evenings.

Older sister Jessica Rolley, who will enter the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps after graduation, has also turned to her sister for advice through the years. “When I was doing spays and neuters last year, I would ask her questions about what she had seen in the clinic,” said Jessica Rolley, who has already been mistaken for her sister at least once since classes started.

Rori Kameka of Rockville, Maryland, developed a passion for wildlife during an international experience. Kameka, who lived in Jamaica before moving to the United States at age 11, began his current career path while he was a junior double-majoring in biology and environmental science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“I never paid much attention to the field until my third year of college when I took a trip to Zimbabwe and worked with an organization called Lion Encounter,” said Kameka, who also enjoys winter sports such as ice skating and snowboarding. “There I worked with lions for three weeks. It was a lot of grunt work, but we were also there to get the lions accustomed to people alongside them. I already had a passion for animals, but after that I had an even greater love for wildlife.”

More photos of orientation and the white coat ceremony are available on the college’s Facebook page.

Written by Michael Sutphin and Sherrie Whaley.

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