University of Calgary

Faculty of Medicine celebrates Class of 2013 Aye-Ayes

UToday HomeMay 9, 2013

Amazing fact: the aye-aye, like the woodpecker, taps on trees to find food.Amazing fact: the aye-aye, like the woodpecker, taps on trees to find food. The aye-aye then uses its narrow middle finger to extract the food. Photo by Frank Vassen, Wikimedia CommonsAt each spring convocation, the Faculty of Medicine adds another animal to its MD Alumni Menagerie. This year the Aye-Ayes, medical school class of 2013, joins the menagerie.

The Faculty of Medicine began naming its medical school classes after animals in 1975 when a professor became frustrated with his class and called them “a bunch of turkeys.” The name stuck and so did the tradition, with each medical class naming the class behind them. For obvious reasons, the inaugural medical class, the Class of 1973, identify themselves as the Guinea Pigs.

The second-year medical school class has the task of naming the incoming class. The names for the earlier classes were fairly recognizable: the Turkeys named the class of ’76 the Beavers, and the Beavers, in turn, named the class of ’77 the Toads.

In recent years, however, the animals chosen have been a bit less common and much less flattering. For example, the class of ’04 is named after the taphozous (a type of black-bearded tomb bat) while the class of ’05 is named after the candirus (a parasitic, fresh water catfish that allegedly invades the human urethra.)

Each animal name is embraced and becomes part of the class’s identity — an identity that continues well beyond convocation.

“My class identifies more with our animal name, the emu, than our graduation year,” explains Janice Heard, MD’84, executive director of the Alumni Affairs program for the Faculty of Medicine.

“It is not uncommon to hear a medical doctor in the community say their animal name when introducing themselves to a fellow University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine alumnus/a. It is what unifies us and makes us unique.”

An aye-aye is a unique looking primate that makes its home in Madagascar. The aye-aye has large rodent-like teeth, large, hairless ears and an unusually long, skinny middle finger that it uses to dig for insects and grubs in tree trunks. All of these are qualities helped the aye-aye earn a spot on the World’s Ugliest Animals List by Mother Nature’s Network.

"Getting our animal name was exciting because the class ahead of us really made a big deal of the naming ceremony and made us feel like we were a part of something special. Then, getting to name the class the next year brought the feeling full circle because our class remembered how special that was for us and wanted to do the same for the incoming class. All over the country as soon as an alumnus hears you're a Calgary graduate, the first question they ask is ‘What's your animal?’” said Catherine Bereznicki, a Class of 2013 Aye-Aye.


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