School of Physician Assistant Practice graduates fourth class

Olivia Bergau and classmates

The Florida State University School of Physician Assistant Practice graduated its fourth class on Saturday, Dec. 10, with 54 of the 55 graduates participating in commencement exercises at Opperman Music Hall.

Dean John P. Fogarty presided over the graduation, his final one before his retirement after 14 years at the helm of the College of Medicine. In a nod to the disruption COVID-19 caused in the routine of learning and training, as well as the graduations of earlier classes, Fogarty said he was “pleased to be doing this in person today.”

Ben Smith, a faculty member since the program was being created and recently named the school’s director, reminded the graduates of the college’s mission and the “passion, perseverance and enthusiasm they brought to their interviews three years ago,” and to their first day of class on Aug. 24, 2020. The class made the cut from 1,700 applicants.

Quoting Louis Pasteur, Smith said, “In the field of observation, chance only favors the prepared mind.”

Keynote speaker Courtney Bennett Wilke, an assistant professor in the PA program and an FSU undergraduate who went on to PA school at the University of Florida before FSU’s PA school was established, reminded the graduates that the words of their core values should guide their actions.

Referencing the words of George Washington Carver, she encouraged the graduates to “resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.”

Diane Bergau, a Merritt Island radiologist and proud mother of PA graduate Olivia Bergau, said many PA programs don’t offer the detailed training that FSU does.

“They have an actual anatomy lab where they work on cadavers, not a video of it,” said Dr. Bergau, a graduate of the University of Miami School of Medicine. “They also teach pharmacology, which many schools don’t.”

Olivia Bergau, who as an undergraduate was captain of FSU’s 2018 national champion women’s soccer team, took time off to play soccer professionally in Iceland before beginning PA school. Her mother said she has a display case with her NCAA championship ring and her three ACC championship rings, but she chose to wear her FSU soccer team ring for her graduation.

After the ceremony, Olivia shared hugs with her mother; her father, Frank; sister, Samantha; nephew, Gunnar, 5 months; and fiancé, Sam Crocker.

“I feel really blessed to have had the support I’ve had,” the graduate said. “I’m trying to settle in to the fact that I have finally graduated. Now, I need to study for my boards.”

Contact Audrey Post at

PA Class of 2022 Class
College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty presides over his final graduation commencement prior to retirement. The PA Class of 2022 graduated on Saturday, Dec. 10. (photos by Colin Hackley)