Students, Alums Send Messages of Inspiration to Class of 2023

Touro University California Sets Stage as Hundreds Prepare for Commencements at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium

May 19, 2023
Newly graduated students hug one another

Three alums of Touro University California will serve as speakers for commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 22 and May 23 in Sacramento.

They will join a cadre of eight student speakers who have been tapped by their peers to represent their respective programs: four from the College of Education and Health Sciences, one each from the College of Pharmacy and the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and two from the Master of Science in Medical Health Sciences program.

Each of the ceremonies will be viewable online at

The MSMHS commencement began at 11 a.m. May 15 on campus. The ceremony featured two student speakers: Muhammad Iqbal and Michael Emile Khoury.

Iqbal, Master of Science in Medical Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine, is one of four children born to his parents, Noreen and Muhammad. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, San Diego and two Associate of Science degrees.

Iqbal is a first-generation immigrant from Pakistan and aspires to become an osteopathic physician while helping those with a similar background.

His Master’s program complete, Iqbal now looks to the future.

“The Master’s program, as incredible as it has been, made me appreciate a lot about myself and what there is to know. That being said, it also reminded me of how important it is to connect with your friends and family.”

His plans for the summer include time to visit with family and friends and to reward himself, he is going to Disneyland for two days. He will also focus on gaining admission to medical school, hopefully, he said, at Touro University California’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Iqbal leaves the Master’s program with great memories.

“My fondest memories include my dear friends that I have made in this program. The shared struggle creates the deepest friendships. I remember after block exams, we would all go out to just hang out and talk to relieve ourselves from the stress but it was also during this time that we all felt free and had so many laughs. I hold moments like those close to my heart and am grateful to the Master’s program for that.”

Khoury, Master of Science in Medical Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Oregon. He then worked for The Chariot Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, conducting research in the field of pediatric anesthesia.

Khoury is motivated to pursue his journey of becoming an osteopathic physician using his martial arts background to incorporate his “Never Giving Up” mindset.

He plans this summer to work for The Chariot Program, where he will conduct clinical research within the Pediatric Anesthesiology Department. He also plans to travel to Greece for vacation.

From there, Khoury said he plans to continue working at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford “until blessed with the opportunity to attend medical school.”

Khoury took time recently to reflect on his education at Touro.

“My most fond memories during my time at Touro have been hanging out with and getting to know my classmates in and out of class, Project HAPPY, volunteering for Dr. Barbara Puder’s neuroscience events for elementary and high school students, The Big Game, and the vast amount of shadowing opportunities provided throughout the MSMHS program,” he said.

College of Pharmacy

Commencement for the College of Pharmacy Class of 2023 begins at 10 a.m. May 22 at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.

The commencement speaker is Loriann De Martini, PharmD, MPH, BCGP, Chief Executive Officer of the California Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

De Martini is a member of the Board of Directors at HealthImpact, which strives to optimize people’s health in California through nursing, a Fellow with the California Health Care Foundation, which helps Californians with low incomes get the health care they need, and former Deputy Director of the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Quality Performance and Accreditation; and is an adjunct clinical professor in the College of Pharmacy at Touro University California as well as an associate clinical professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco.

Alumna Brigitte Ouabo, PharmD, Class of 2016, will welcome the graduates.

Ouabo is the founder of The Rookie Pharmacist podcast. She works as a Clinical Pharmacist for Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and Health Centers in Martinez. She worked as a Pharmacy Technician for nearly 13 years and as a Pharmacy Intern for four years before earning her Pharm.D. degree from Touro University California.

Ouabo took time prior to the ceremony to offer some encouraging words to this year’s graduates.

“Congratulations, Class of 2023. As a pharmacist, you are entering a truly noble profession and your patients and health care team are counting on you to provide them with accurate information, counsel and medication management,” Ouabo said. “You have acquired a wealth of knowledge and skills during your time at Touro, which will serve as the foundation for your future success. However, remember that learning is a lifelong process, and be open to continuing your education and expanding your skillset throughout your career.

“Don't be afraid to take risks and pursue your passions within the field of pharmacy. Whether it's clinical practice, research, teaching or entrepreneurship, there are many opportunities to make a difference and leave a positive impact on the profession,” Ouabo said. “Finally, remember to take care of yourself and find a healthy work-life balance. Your physical and mental health are critical to your success as a pharmacist and your ability to provide the best possible care to your patients. Best of luck on your journey.”

Student speaker Sarah Aguilar Vreeburg, Doctor of Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, received her Bachelor of Science degree in human biology from the University of Southern California and a Master’s in Education from Southern Methodist University in Texas.

While in Dallas, Vreeburg taught high school physics, environmental systems, and a hospitality career prep program as a Corps Member of Teach for America. Upon moving to Napa, she worked for several years in winery hospitality and marketing before finding her way to pharmacy school at Touro University California.

Some of Vreeburg’s most cherished experiences during her time in pharmacy school include serving as College of Pharmacy Board and Class Board president, teaching first-year students, publishing several articles, and helping patients improve their health.

Vreeburg took some time at the end of her student rotations to travel to South America with her husband, where they explored Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. Since her return, she’s been primarily studying for her board exams and working as a pharmacy intern at both CVS (Napa) and Kaiser Permanente (Vallejo). She has a few more fun events peppered in throughout the summer before starting her residency in July.

Her path after that includes serving as a pharmacy resident at Kaiser Permanente Napa Solano, where she will spend the next year honing her skills as a pharmacist “and hopefully finding the perfect ambulatory care clinic” at which to start her career.

Vreeburg said she leaves Touro University California with “quite a few” fond memories.

“Beyond the lifelong friendships and opportunities to engage with our fantastic faculty, I have fond memories of the TUC/TUN volleyball and basketball games, COP white coat ceremonies, prospective student open houses, vaccine clinics, candidate interviews … the list goes on,” she said. “One of my favorite personal memories was the time I was able to develop and deliver my own lecture to first-year pharmacy students on the pathophysiology of hypertension. My journey at Touro has been extremely enjoyable and memorable, and I look forward to hopefully returning one day as a professor.”

College of Education and Health Sciences

Commencement for the College of Education and Health Sciences’ Class of 2023 begins at 6 p.m. May 22 at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.

The ceremony features four student speakers, one for each program, as well as a speaker representing past graduates.

Alumna Angela Upshaw, MPH, MBA, Public Health Program, Class of 2013, will welcome the graduates.

Upshaw is the Director of Programs for the Berkeley Food and Housing Project. She previously served as the organization’s Associate Director of Programs, as Senior Program Manager, and as Health Care Coordinator. She is a board member for the East Bay Housing Organization in Oakland and serves as an advisory board member for the Sacramento County Continuum of Care.

She previously worked as a Health Education Specialist for Solano County Health and Social Services, Public Health Division, Health Promotion and Community Wellness Bureau, Tobacco Prevention and Education Program, where she served as a smoking cessation clinic facilitator.

“Congratulations on this momentous achievement,” Upshaw said. “Your graduation from Touro University California is a significant milestone in your life and a testament to your passion and commitment to public health.”

”As you step into the public health arena, I encourage you to remember the following: First, continue to be curious and seek knowledge. Public health constantly evolves, and staying up-to-date with the latest research and best practices is critical. Second, be a leader. Public health demands leadership, and it is your responsibility to advocate for the health of your community and promote policies that support health equity. Finally, collaborate. Public health requires a multidisciplinary approach, and you must work with individuals and organizations from diverse backgrounds to achieve your goals.”

“I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”

Student speaker Deonna “Deedee” Thompson, Master of Science in Nursing, School of Nursing, College of Education and Health Sciences, comes from humble beginnings in Oakland, the youngest of four children born to her mother, Sophia.

Her fondness for the medical field began in her medical assistant career in a physician’s office. Her nursing journey began at the College of Marin, where she wore many hats, including class president and advocate for her peers.

As a lifelong learner, she returned to Touro University California. After researching and understanding the importance of a strong transition to graduate education, her master’s project fostered a peer-led support program for ADN-MSN students.

Thompson is a first-generation college graduate and the first in her family to receive a master’s degree.

Thompson said she plans “to practice self-care” and enjoy some vacation time this summer. After that, she will work to become certified as a public health nurse (PHN) and clinical nurse leader (CNL), which she said will open doors for her true passion: “Being able to work with underserved individuals and groups and to help create programs that empower them.”

Thompson shared some of her most fond memories from her time at Touro University California.

“I really enjoyed giving and receiving support from my colleagues,” she said. “Through the tough times we vented, laughed, and persevered. I now have at least one lifelong sister and friend because of Touro’s School of Nursing.”

Her best memories from her time in clinical rotation are from the pop-up clinics run by Dr. Fatima Hernandez from the College of Pharmacy.

“She always made the environment welcoming and fun,” Thompson said of the Touro CARES Mobile Vaccination Program, which got its start in response to the pandemic.

Student speaker Talía Godínez, Master of Education in Innovative Learning, Graduate School of Education, College of Education and Health Sciences, is a native Californian, Chicana and daughter of Michoacanos who began her career in public health supporting underserved families receiving services in her community.

She discovered in her mid-30s a love for education, and eventually received her teaching credential from Sonoma State University. Today she’s a dual immersion teacher in Napa whose goal is to bridge the divide between Latino families and their children’s education and to facilitate the learning of critical thinkers and owners of their own education.

Godínez plans this summer to find new camping locations in Northern California around teaching a couple of weeks of summer school and working. She is also finishing up her research for her master’s degree. Beyond that, her goal is to stay local and find time to relax.

“After an amazing year in the Touro Innovative Learning Program I feel like I’ve learned so much about changes that need to occur in our education system, and my plan is to start in my own classroom,” she said. “I want to make sure that I always have a growth mindset where I will know my students and be able to provide them a safe and supportive environment. One size does not fit all and I want to make sure that I’m always innovating and learning about learning.”

Godínez completed the program during the pandemic.

“Despite having all our classes on Zoom, I’ve truly felt that I’ve made connections with my cohort. We’ve shared many laughs and created a space where we felt comfortable sharing to each other openly and freely,” she said. “Dr. Pamela Redmond and our professors have truly created a program that not only teaches us about what is necessary for our students but inspires us to make the change.”

Student speaker Latara Harris, Master of Public Health, Public Health Program, College of Education and Health Sciences, was raised in San Francisco and completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her career includes reconnecting disenfranchised HIV patients to care, providing smoking cessation programs for pregnant teens with diabetes, and improving birth outcomes in low-income communities.

Harris manages administrative teams at UC Berkeley and previously managed research compliance and administration units. Harris is a Youth Programs director at her church, was instrumental in starting the Black and Latino Family Networks at her children’s high school and founded the Mama Jana Playgroup, which aims to increase urban youth’s exposure to educational, social and cultural activities.

She is the parent of two college graduates and looks forward to applying to DrPH programs. She plans this summer to celebrate not only her graduation but also her daughter's college graduation.

“We will celebrate our accomplishments with family and friends, vacation in Spain, and I'll round out the summer working with Touro's Youth in Action Summer Youth Leadership Institute,” Harris said.

After that she plans to continue her work at UC Berkeley while continuing to work with Touro University California's Youth in Action Program, and plans to enroll in a DrPH program. Longer-term goals include opening a nonprofit aimed at bridging educational gaps and increasing educational exposure to youth in the community.

Harris completes her education with an eye toward maintaining the connections made at the University.

“My fondest memories at Touro include the relationships that I've built with other students, faculty and administration, which I am sure will carry on into the future,” she said.

Student speaker Emerald Bibler, Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and Master of Public Health, Joint MSPAS/MPH Program, College of Education and Health Sciences, was raised in Madera Ranchos, a small farming town in the Central Valley of California.

She was homeschooled all the way through high school until she started at Madera Junior College where she met her fiancé, Patrick, now almost 10 years ago.

Bibler graduated from California State University, Fresno with a degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a minor in Physical Science. After graduation from Touro University California she will take part in a one-year Emergency Medicine fellowship at Kaweah Health in Visalia, California.

“I’m thrilled about this opportunity and am looking forward to advanced emergency training,” she said.

Bibler said she has forgotten her hobbies since starting PA school but has been told she enjoys softball, reading, personal finance and fostering an absurd number of cats. She plans to spend the summer preparing to move to Visalia with her fiancé and continuing to prepare for their October wedding. Any down time will be spent with her dog and three cats or reading books, all of which she said she has desperately missed over the past 13 months while on clinical rotations.

Bibler takes with her some fond memories from her time at Touro.

“Although the majority of my time at Touro has been remote since starting in 2020, I really enjoyed playing volleyball with my classmates in between the occasional in-person classes and going for long walks on the island during study breaks,” she said.

College of Osteopathic Medicine

Commencement for the College of Osteopathic Medicine begins at 10 a.m. May 23 at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. The ceremony features student and graduate speakers.

Victor Nuño, DO, Class of 2008, will present the alumni welcome.

Nuño, a faculty member at Touro University California, is CEO/President and a Physician for Seek Optimal Health, P.C. in Vallejo, the mission of which is to partner with patients to best harness and stimulate the healing forces inherent to the human body.

The company strives to work with each patient individually to help achieve a state of optimal health through the development of a personalized treatment plan. He serves as an Associate Processor in Touro’s Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. He previously served as NMM/OMM Resident Physician at Southampton Hospital in New York, as Resident Physician at William Beaumont Hospitals in Michigan and as Vice Chair of the Post Graduate American Academy of Osteopathy.

"I have great faith in you as osteopathic physicians,” Nuño said in reference to this year’s graduates. “You are well-trained, caring and passionate. Remember that each encounter with a patient is sacred and potentially life-changing. I know you will."

Student speaker Samaneh Bolourchi, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, College of Osteopathic Medicine, is an alumna of the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to medical school, she worked as a research associate in a pulmonary laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco.

Bolourchi served at Touro University California as president of the College of Medicine Student Executive Council, worked alongside her peers in establishing the TUC White Coats for Black Lives Chapter and the TUCOM-CA Student Health Advisory Committee, and served nationally as a member of the COSGP Executive Board and COCA Diversity Task Force.

Bolourchi said she is grateful for the support she receives from family, friends and mentors, especially her niece and nephew.

“Summers are easily taken for granted when you get one every year. Of course, our only free summer of medical school was affected by the uncertainty of the onset of the pandemic. Realizing this is my last and only summer before some of our friends part ways and we all dive into residency allows me to appreciate this time. I plan for this summer to be filled with laughs with friends, time with family and my pet bird Maui, eating delicious food and being surrounded by trees, sand and sun. I will be doing some domestic traveling to Baltimore, Portland, Hawaii, Chicago, LA and celebrating some of my amazing friends getting married.”

After that is her residency in Internal Medicine at Alameda Health System Highland Hospital in her hometown of Oakland, California.

“It will be an absolute privilege to work with our historically underserved and marginalized populations, and strive to improve the health of this diverse population in my own local community,” she said.

Bolourchi will keep Touro University California in her heart as she moves into her residency and beyond.

“There are too many wonderful memories at Touro to recount,” she said. “As the only medical school I received an interview from, Touro gave me the invaluable opportunity to pursue my dream of being a physician. What I did not realize at the time was that this context would be a blessing in many ways, igniting deep gratitude for every experience and a commitment to be an active member of the community that had accepted me.

“I will never forget the privileges that I would never have had otherwise, such as human anatomy lab with my TBL, performing sternotomies and holding a beating heart in cardiothoracic surgery, delivering my first newborn, and engaging in meaningful conversations with patients and their loved ones. But even more enriching to my personal life, I have made some of my best friends and mentors for life at this institution. Without my extraordinary friends and their support at Touro, my journey in medicine would never have been the same.

“I am looking forward to many more decades of late-night chats, picnics, spa days, beach lounging, surfing, conferences, weddings and travel together.”

More about this year's commencements is available here on Instagram