In October, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine recognized the Class of 2021 with its annual White Coat Ceremony, a tradition played out at nearly every medical school across the country. In front of family members, faculty, and staff, students don their white coats for the first time. It’s a great photo opportunity, but the White Coat Ceremony also has a much deeper meaning.

Supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the event reminds future physicians of the importance of practicing humanism in their profession. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine takes the intent one step further through an eight-week curriculum that includes senior practitioners who deliver a series of memorable anecdotes and words of wisdom followed by moving discussions; development, as a class, of a set of guiding principles; and personal essays.

This year’s ceremony had a particularly meaningful component. In the pocket of their white coats, each student found a personal letter of encouragement from a Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine alumnus or alumna. Here are several of them.