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UMMS Graduate School of Nursing awards 47 degrees and post-graduate certificates at Commencement 2020

Graduates are lauded for exceptional achievement during exceptional times during virtual proceedings

By Sandra Gray and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

May 31, 2020


The Graduate School of Nursing at UMass Medical School celebrated Commencement 2020 in an online celebration on Sunday, May 31. The school awarded 39 Doctors of Nursing Practice degrees, five PhD in Nursing degrees, one Master of Science in Nursing degree and two post-graduate certificates.

“As nurses, you have pledged to put others above yourselves. You have committed to those most in need, at a time when they need you most. You have vowed to step forward, when stepping aside is not an option,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins in his address to the graduates. “During the trying and triumphant moments of your career, please know of the enduring pride the University of Massachusetts Medical School shall have in calling you one of our own.”

Graduate School of Nursing Dean Joan Vitello noted that most of the graduates have worked as nurses throughout their programs of study, many caring for patients with COVID-19. She lauded them for learning how to confront the consequences of the virus in real time, notably connecting with their patients to humanize the patient experience despite having to don face-covering personal protective equipment. They overcame the hurdles of working long, stressful hours while completing their studies, scholarly projects and dissertation defenses to graduate as planned.

“To the Class of 2020, congratulations and enjoy the moment. This was not how we imagined or wanted this graduation to be. We missed out on being together, but we are here today to honor and recognize you,” said Dean Vitello. “While you are not literally walking across the stage today, you are now prepared to step into new roles as nurse practitioners, educators and nurse scientists.”

Also joining the proceedings to congratulate the graduates and thank them for their service were Gov. Charlie Baker; University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan; UMass Board of Trustees member and UMass Medical School alumna Kerri Osterhaus-Houle, MD; and UMMS Executive Deputy Chancellor and Provost Terence R. Flotte.

GSN class speaker Joanne Lewis, who accepted her PhD at the ceremony, became a nurse practitioner through the GSN’s Graduate Entry Pathway program. She channeled childhood idol Mr. Rogers directive from his mother who, when he was little and scared about something happening in the world, told him not to worry, just look for the helpers.

“This thought has given me comfort over the last few scary months. As nurses, we have chosen to be the helpers,” said Lewis. “You know that feeling when you’re alone in a room with a patient and the patient isn’t doing well, and your stomach drops and your heart rate goes up and you call for help? And your other nursing colleagues arrive and all of a sudden you know what to do and you know how to help. This is what we’ve trained for. This is our superhero talent. Having each other’s backs, working as a team and getting the job done is what nurses do best.

“In whatever direction our careers take us, may we have the strength and grace to choose justice and kindness and doing what’s right even if it’s not easy or popular,” she said. “The pandemic will pass and things will settle into a new normal and we will be able to use our training to make new opportunities to be helpers.”

The graduation ceremony was livestreamed via Facebook, Zoom and YouTube. Chancellor Collins conferred the degrees as Janet Hale, PhD, professor of nursing and family medicine & community health and associate dean for interprofessional and community partnerships in the GSN, announced each graduate. (See a full list of the UMMS Class of 2020 here.)

Watch the full ceremony here.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
GSN class speaker Joanne Lewis follows mother’s example in helping others
DNP candidates submit final projects; work on front lines amid pandemic
GSN student Kathleen Schultz honored by Arnold Gold Foundation for essay on patient encounter