While it wasn’t how Marymount’s Class of 2020 envisioned the conclusion of their journey to a college degree, its members still gathered together, albeit online, to celebrate their accomplishments.
On May 31, the University held virtual commencement ceremonies for undergraduate and graduate students. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the connected orders from government leaders and guidance from health agencies, many higher education institutions had to change their plans on how to hold graduation events. While a difficult decision, Marymount chose to go online in order to best protect the health and safety of its students, faculty, staff and community members during these uncertain times.
Marymount’s President, Dr. Irma Becerra, conferred 627 bachelor’s degrees, 379 master’s degrees and 37 doctoral degrees during the virtual ceremonies. In her speech to graduates, Dr. Becerra declared that the Class of 2020 has “already made history.”
“You have earned degrees that will help rebuild our nation and the world, whether through piecing together the health of our nation, realizing how we can defend ourselves against future threats, keeping our nation safe both physically and virtually and aiding our economic recovery all over the world,” she said. “Your college education has prepared you to conquer the threat we face today, and those we will face in the future. We are in your hands.”
Dr. Becerra was joined in both undergraduate and graduate ceremonies by Marymount’s Provost, Dr. Hesham El-Rewini. This was his first commencement season at the University, and he took the opportunity to voice his support and admiration for the 2020 graduates.
“This past semester, you have shown great resilience, adaptability and a relentless desire to succeed, despite the difficult conditions associated with the pandemic,” Dr. El-Rewini stated. “Spring 2020 will forever be remembered as a symbol of your strength, our unity and what we can achieve together.”
The ceremonies incorporated slides for each graduating student, which featured their photo, degree and a special personalized message of their choice.
Speeches were also delivered by a student from the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels, two Marymount faculty members and two invited speakers who were also honorary degree recipients.
Serving in the invited speaker role for the graduate ceremony was U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). Elected to the Senate in 2012, he current serves on the Armed Services, Budget, Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committees. Sen. Kaine has also previously held office as Governor of Virginia and the Mayor of Richmond. In his speech, he shared his thoughts on how the University has prepared its students for the unique challenges of today.
“How will we ultimately defeat coronavirus? Think about Marymount’s virtues,” Sen. Kaine said. “Intellectual curiosity will drive the research and the innovation needed to find cures and treatments. Global perspective will take in the experiences and the suffering and the insights of all in order to defeat a challenge that knows no borders. And a commitment to service will compel that the tests and the treatments and the vaccines not be restricted to those with means or those in certain places only, but available to all who are affected, no matter where they live or what resources they possess.”
Following Sen. Kaine in the graduate ceremony was Dr. Diane Murphy, Professor and Department Chair of Information Technology, Data Science and Cybersecurity. This year, she received recognition as a 2020 Outstanding Faculty Award recipient from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
“Technology has played a critical role in keeping our world connected over the past few months. Think about life staying at home, without the internet,” Dr. Murphy said. “We expect that our technology graduates will now play a significant role in the innovations necessary to restart our economy and keep our increasingly cyber world safe.”
Also addressing the graduate students were Katherine O’Donohue, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Abdulrahman Alrayes, Master of Science in Cybersecurity.
“There were times each of us was pushed close to our limits. We overcame stress, sleep deprivation, sicknesses, family emergencies and a pandemic, all while surviving a demanding curriculum,” O’Donohue reflected. “During these times, many of us probably questioned whether we could keep up and continue with the program, but here we are today. Little did we know then that these regularly occurring periods of high stress made us a little tougher, made us a little more resilient and helped us find strategies to cope, and also allowed us to strengthen bonds with faculty and between one another. Thanks to this program, our stress tolerance is high, and we are well-equipped to handle any high-stress situations we may encounter in our future work environments.”
“With education we are resilient,” Alrayes added. “With education, we are able to adapt to challenging times, drive innovations that will change the perception of what’s possible and push boundaries in order to ensure a better life for generations to come.”
Meanwhile, in the undergraduate ceremony, Ambassador Martha Bárcena spoke to the Class of 2020 as the invited speaker. She became the first female ambassador of Mexico to the United States in January of 2019, and has worked in the Mexican Foreign Service since 1979.
“The path I trod to get to where I am today has been long and full of ups and downs that have taught me important lessons. Among them, I have learned that during times of uncertainty and distress, like the one we’re going through right now, it is important to be always learning,” Amb. Bárcena shared. “Comfort is indeed the enemy of personal and societal growth. We know that we all will face hardships in our lives, but it requires courage to find the mental and moral strength to persevere and withstand difficulty.”
Dr. Eric Bubar, Associate Professor of Biology and Physical Sciences, brought his unique wit and humor to the ceremony as undergraduate faculty speaker. Some highlights include quoting Vin Diesel from The Fast and the Furious (“It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”), remembering how the 2009 economic recession impacted his own college graduation (“It did not preclude my success. Just check out these awesome Dumbledore robes I now get to wear!”) and commenting on his formal academic degrees in astronomy and physics (“If you’ve ever seen the The Big Bang Theory on TV, yeah, that was basically my life.”).
On a more serious note, however, Dr. Bubar – who has spent much of his time and efforts during the pandemic creating face shields for medical workers – summarized all of the different ways that a Marymount education can give graduates a set of tools to tackle the current crisis.
“Use your broad training in art, philosophy, theology and the social sciences to understand the historical context of this pandemic and its human impact on society. Apply your economics, mathematics and natural science training to understand the importance of social distancing for flattening the curve, and perhaps to work in the labs where a vaccine or cure may be developed. In business, cybersecurity and IT, you can create contact tracing apps to isolate new cases so the world can start to emerge safely from lockdown. Or perhaps you’re a future nurse or health care professional that will fight on the front lines of this event.”
Brianna Simmons, the undergraduate student speaker and a Psychology major, achieved much in her four years at Marymount. She attained membership in three honor societies (Phi Eta Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi and Psi Chi), presented at three research conferences, served as a student leader and Peer Mentor Coordinator in the Peer Mentor program, drafted the University’s Inclusion Statement as a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, successfully defended her thesis in the Honors Program and was named Psychology Student of the Year.
“As we move forward in our journey after Marymount, do not limit yourself to your dreams only. Entering Marymount as a freshman, my only dream was to graduate from Marymount with honors,” Simmons said. “If I would have stuck to this dream exclusively, I would have missed out on great opportunities and missed out on meeting great people.”
For more information on Marymount University’s 2020 Commencement, including accessible versions of programs and award recognitions, please visit the Commencement page on our website.