Medical School Recollection: The Little Class That Could

In 1963, a quirk of curriculum change created a tiny class with wide horizons


Graduation day 1963, Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University; from left: Kusumoto, Mitchell and Scully.

By Joyce Thomas

Few are aware that only three MD graduates showed up for commencement June 16, 1963. Moreover, few know that the trio, Howard Kusumoto, Diane Mitchell and Tom Scully, along with a fourth, Sherman Butler, made up the entire class of 1963.

“We had our own graduation,” says Scully. “Howard, Diane and I donned our gowns and went through the ceremonies. Later the oath was read and we became doctors.” Butler missed the formal ceremonies due to an externship obligation, already under way.

Why a class of only four? A note in the 1963 commencement program explains:

The small number of [MD] degree candidates from the School of Medicine reflects the fact that the curriculum was lengthened from four to five years in 1959; the first class to complete that program will graduate in 1964. The class of 1963 included one transfer from another school and three former members of the class of 1962, who had authorized absences during 1961-62. [From The Seventy-Second Annual Commencement at Stanford University, page 75.]

Med school graduation that year was held with the university in the late afternoon at the Laurence Frost amphitheater.
Mitchell remembers the beautiful day. The weather was warm and sunny and visitors were in their shirtsleeves, she says. “One of our dearest memories was the arrival of Howard on his motorcycle, with robes blowing in the wind, holding his son, Fred. Both dad and son had such big smiles!” The motorcycle was a Honda 50 cc, explains Kusumoto, and his passengers included a cousin and Kusumoto’s son, who had turned 3 in March.

Afterward, the three MD grads in attendance reconvened at the medical school and Associate Dean Lowell Rantz, MD, administered the Hippocratic Oath.

Class of 1963 Reunion

Class of 1963 reunion, December 2002, San Diego, Calif.; from left: Howard Kusumoto, Tom Scully, Diane Mitchell and Sherman Butler.

Kusumoto recalls that Helen Rantz, director of the housestaff office at Stanford for many years and the wife of Lowell Rantz, always remembered the unique class of 1963. She kept a picture of the four classmates above her desk.

The educational experience of the class of ’63 was unusual as well. “The four of us who became the class of 1963 had little contact during our clinical years,” Scully says. “While I was on a medicine rotation the others might be on surgery, ob/gyn or pediatrics. We did not rotate on each of the services at the same time.”

Butler, who was originally in the class of ’61 and worked in Stanford Hospital ER after his second year, says, “I think our small class was given more freedom to design our own programs.”

“We probably had unprecedented freedoms,” Mitchell says. “However, we benefited from marvelous, unique opportunities for one-on-one supervision and interaction. Our teachers were extremely generous with their time and expertise."

All four eventually met again, but not until last December when they gathered in San Diego for a reunion – nearly 40 years after finishing medical school – possibly the only class reunion with all classmates in attendance. Scully was going to be in California for a meeting of the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons so he contacted the other three, all of them longtime Californians, and the timing worked out. “Fortunately everyone was available,” Mitchell says. “We met for dinner. It was a truly joyous class reunion for all of us.” SMD

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