During a special ceremony at the Dahl Arts Center on Tuesday afternoon, Meredith Shama celebrated three major life accomplishments: becoming a mother, graduating from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and achieving the rank of captain in the United States Air Force.

“This is wonderful,” said Shama, 27. “I appreciate my family and friends for being here.”

Shama would have participated in the general graduation ceremony with her classmates in Vermillion over the weekend, but she was unable to walk cross the stage because she was still in the hospital after giving birth to her son, Russell.

Wanting to honor a distinguished graduate, Dr. Matthew Simmons, an associate dean of the USD campus in Rapid City, organized the special ceremony with a small group of Shama’s close family and friends.

“We knew she couldn’t travel and we wanted to do something special,” Simmons said. “This was an opportunity for us to do something kind of unique.”

After a few bars of "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the stereo, Simmons presented Shama with her doctoral hood.

“This is magical right now. You know why?” Simmons asked the small audience at the Dahl as he placed the hood over Shama’s shoulders. “Because now it’s Dr. Shama.

"This is where she transitions from being a medical student to being a medical doctor.”

Shama also transitioned from being a second lieutenant in the Air Force to being a captain when her parents and her husband, Luke — whom she met at USD — pinned her rank badges on her epaulets and hat.

Capt. Jason Kimura with the National Guard presided over this part of the ceremony.

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“With the changes to the Air Force, I expect you’ll start to see more female members,” Kimura said by way of congratulating Shama.

Her parents made the trip from Indiana to be present at the special event.

“It’s hard to hold back the emotions,” her father, Doug Sauer, said. “And I’m not an emotional guy, not normally.”

Shama was also emotional as she read with a quavering voice a pledge to commit to the care of her future patients.

Reflecting on becoming a mother, doctor, and captain in the span of a few days, Shama said she hopes she can take some time to rest before heading off to serve her residency at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

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