White Lab Coat Ceremony honors years of hard work and dedication
Rose Vardell

Inside the Wilson Hall Reading Room, seven Pioneers received monogrammed lab coats in a special rite of passage that commemorates their two years in the Cancer Immunology program.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, the Wilson Hall Reading Room was packed with Pioneers, ready to celebrate newest recipients of the coveted Cancer Immunology lab coat. Nearly all members of the course’s six sections were present, as well as friends of the honorees, ready to cheer for their peers.

To be a recipient of the white lab coat (monogrammed by the Wang Innovation Center’s finest), you must complete one year of the program, learning the intricate and careful craft of cancer research, and receive mentorship from the most seasoned students in the program. The mentorship is a crucial part of the program and allows for so many students to sign up for a class originally limited to eight students. With six sections and about ten kids per section, that’s nearly 60 students or 14% of the student body with a vested interest in the fight against cancer.

“It’s incredible to see how much this program has grown,” said Dr. Robert Aguilar, Science Department faculty member and founder of the program. At Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Aguilar conducted research that led to a vaccine for testicular cancer, as well as the research for a breast cancer vaccine, now in clinical trials. While working on his doctorate, WRA students were invited to intern at the research clinic, and he saw firsthand how dedicated they were to conducting such important research.

“It’s truly a pleasure to see students continue to fight the battle against cancer and join the ranks of those who wish to dedicate their time to this cause and help train others,” he shared. “By donning this lab coat, you are accepting the responsibility to ensure that those that come after you are afforded the same opportunity to learn how to endure the ups and the many downs of this work.” (Many downs, he emphasized, as much of this work is troubleshooting!)

He invited the most seasoned cancer immunology students (and previous mentors of the newly inducted students!) to offer sage wisdom, and they came prepared. They reminded their classmates to take a moment to be proud of themselves and all they’ve worked toward to get to this point. They reminded them to have patience in the face of discouragement, to think about their goals for the year and what it will take to reach them, to remember to ask for help and know that they’re not alone in this journey.

Even after all these years at Reserve, one can’t help but be helplessly floored by the maturity, capability and wisdom of these young Pioneers. It was incredibly moving to see each mentee step forward, arms outstretched, face lifted with pride as their student-mentor helped them don their embroidered lab coat for the first time. Even with a small initial hiccup of scrambling to get the coats unbuttoned, it was a heartwarming sight.

Congratulations, students. You are already making a difference.