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UMMS recognizes Class of 2020 biomedical sciences graduates in virtual Commencement ceremony

By Kylee Denesha and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

May 31, 2020


The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences conferred degrees to 56 graduates in the Class of 2020 at its 47th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 31. For the first time, the ceremony took place online, with friends and family watching via FaceBook, Zoom and YouTube, instead of a under a tent on the campus green. Traditionally, graduates of the Graduate School of Nursing, School of Medicine and GSBS are recognized at one ceremony. This year, each held separate, virtual events, in compliance with social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his address, Chancellor Michael F. Collins said the graduates deserve the celebration they have envisioned since matriculating at UMMS and acknowledged the differences that this year has brought.

“This moment is both real and surreal,” Chancellor Collins said. “As an academic community, we are gathered, if such a word could be used, in ones and twos, some with families near, others next to provosts and deans, and yet others watching from afar, as the festivity of the moment is silenced into solemnity by an unrelenting virus. This was not how it was meant to be.”

The GSBS conferred 10 Master’s of Science in Clinical Investigation, 39 PhDs, and 7 MD/PhDs. (See a full list of the UMMS Class of 2020 here.)

GSBS Dean Mary Ellen Lane noted that commencement means “beginning,” and while this is a time to celebrate students’ accomplishments, it’s also important to look toward the future.

“We are scientists. We love information. We seek it out, and we know where to find it. We make observations, we evaluate and we draw conclusions. One of the objectives of doctoral education is to develop the capacity to organize information we can see and observe, and construct models to explain what we can’t observe,” Dr. Lane said. “While many of us will never have a direct role in neutralizing coronavirus, or treating COVID-19 patients, or ensuring that care and treatment are distributed equitably, we all have a role to play in holding ourselves, our families, our communities together as we face this uncertain future, in pushing through paralyzing grief and fear to figure out how to do the things that we never thought could be done.”

Class speaker Pranitha Vangala, who accepted her PhD at the ceremony, addressed the closure that one gets from finally achieving the doctoral degree, and all of the hard work that goes into it. She compared lessons in research to navigating the pandemic.

“If we pause and think, we, as scientists, are trained to be resilient. Over the past five, six, seven years, think of how many times we had to accept that our favorite hypothesis is wrong, or the right experiment to do is not possible due to technical difficulties or even the times when we hit dead ends and had to take detours. Yes, we were disappointed during those times or sometimes we even wanted to give up, but we didn’t. We made up our minds, changed our approaches dramatically and did the right thing to move our science forward. I think the same applies to the present situation,” said Vangala.

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan; Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker; UMass Board of Trustees member Kerri Osterhaus-Houle, MD, an alumna of the School of Medicine; and Executive Deputy Chancellor and Provost Terence R. Flotte offered their congratulations and thanks to the graduates.

“I know you will not be daunted by nor shrink from your responsibility to apply the tremendous education you have received to the world’s most vexing problems, beginning with the urgency of SARS-Co-V-2,” said Collins. “My confidence in you, in your compassion and in your scientific abilities, both reflects and confirms my confidence in our faculty, the stewards of your GSBS education.”

Watch the full ceremony here.

Three Class of 2020 graduates and six GSBS students were recognized with awards in the virtual commencement ceremony.

The award winners include:

Chancellor’s Award
Ashley Nicole Matthew

GSBS Dean’s Award
Mona Motwani
Pranitha Vangala

GSBS Outstanding Mid-Thesis Award
Chantal Ferguson
Kevin Gao

GSBS Community Service
Brent Horowitz
Melanie Walker

GSBS Outstanding Mentoring Award
Victoria Julian
Erica Mondo