Drive-by celebration held for medical school graduate

ALABASTER – Following an online medical school graduation ceremony, a stream of friends in vehicles drove by the Alabaster home of Maria Siow for surprise congratulations on the accomplishment.

“It was huge surprise,” said Melanie Siow, Maria’s mother. “She had no idea.”

Melanie asked Maria the day before the ceremony if she was excited, and Maria’s response was something like, “What is there to be excited about?”

But the drive-by celebration helped make the difficult situation worthwhile, and even the University of South Alabama Medical School’s online graduation ceremony had a silver lining.

Maria’s father’s sister lives in Malaysia and would have been unable to attend a traditional ceremony, but she participated in the Zoom conference, which included the graduates taking the Hippocratic Oath and a commissioning for those going into the military.

“The way things happened we were glad she got to be a part of it,” Melanie Siow said.

Maria Siow last saw the 65 other members of her graduating class in mid-March. A tight-knit group was informed at the conclusion of an exam that the school was closing, and they would soon be scattered across the country without a chance for goodbyes as they began residencies.

Siow’s four-year residency at the University of Cincinnati Hospital in internal medicine and pediatrics will begin June 11.

Typically, Match Day is a celebration of the graduates with friends and family in attendance as they open envelopes to reveal the locations for the residencies, but the event was canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting restrictions.

Siow was in several leadership positions in her class, the USA Medical School and honor societies.

She found out recently that had received two awards: the Dr. Robert A. Kreisberg Endowed Award of Excellence (awarded to a graduating senior in the top 25 percent of the class who is distinguished in both clinical and basic sciences; and recognizes leadership, integrity, work ethic and respect among fellow students and faculty) and the Hollis J. Wiseman Award for Excellence in Pediatrics (presented to the student who best exemplifies Wiseman’s outstanding scholarship, compassion for patients and families, involvement in the profession and community, enthusiasm for exploration and steadfast love of family, friends and colleagues).

Following the graduation ceremony, Siow stepped outside to see friends in vehicles driving by with signs and words of encouragement. The well-wishers included a high school AP teacher, middle school tennis coach, friends from church and even Alabaster police officers and firefighters.

“It was a wide swath of people that were able to participate in her graduation that ordinarily wouldn’t have been able to,” Melanie Siow said.