Campus alert status is orange: For the latest campus alert status, news and resources, visit

Search Close Search
Search Close Search


Chancellor Collins to Class of 2021: ‘You are scientists, nurses and doctors at their best’

48th Commencement celebrated under sunny skies as graduates reflect on accomplishments

By Sandra Gray, Bryan Goodchild, Susan E.W. Spencer and Colleen Locke

UMass Medical School Communications

June 06, 2021

The forecast for a hot, humid and joyful day was fulfilled as the UMass Medical School Class of 2021 graduates gathered with faculty, family and friends for the 48th Commencement on Sunday, June 6. The event was held in person following lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks. The ceremonies took place on the sunny football field at Worcester State University due to construction underway on the Medical School campus.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins opened the formal ceremonies by noting that members of the Class of 2021 will be known for their extraordinary accomplishments and dedication to reaching beyond the borders of the campus to work with and help others, especially during the pandemic.

  • 2019 Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service recipient Matilde Castiel, MD, carries the ceremonial commencement mace.
  • Graduate School of Nursing students line up for the 48th Commencement processional.
  • School of Medicine faculty and Learning Community mentors are ready to see their mentees graduate.
  • Chancellor Michael F. Collins delivers the commencement address lauding exceptional achievement amidst a pandemic.
  • Asia Matthew-Onabanjo, MD, PhD, and classmates prepare to don degree hoods.

(To see more images from the day, visit us on Facebook.)

“In moments when science, nursing and medical care were needed most, you came together to participate in the discoveries that brought forth new treatments, new therapeutics and new vaccines. You served on wards, in tents, in arenas, in conference centers and at your neighbors’ doors,” he said. “During the trying and triumphant moments of your career, please know of the enduring pride that the University of Massachusetts Medical School shall have in calling you one of our own. You are scientists, nurses and doctors at their best!”

Class speakers Heather Lovelace, DNP; Sumeet Nayak, PhD; and Benjamin Cook, MD, spoke about arduous, surprising and ultimately rewarding journeys they shared with their classmates.

The UMass Medical School Class of 2021 earned 158 Doctor of Medicine degrees; 11 MD/PhD degrees; nine Master of Science in clinical investigation degrees; 28 Doctor of Philosophy and four Master of Science degrees in the biomedical sciences; 48 Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees; four PhD in Nursing degrees; five Master of Science in Nursing degrees; and six post-graduate certificates.

Honorary degrees were awarded to Worcester civic leader Michael Angelini, Esq.; former University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees Chair Henry Thomas, III, JD; and Dan Riccio and Diane Casey Riccio, PhD, both UMass alums.

Graduates said the unusual final year of studies brought many new lessons.

“The pandemic was definitely a challenge that none of us anticipated, but I think we all rose to meet it and there were some silver linings,” said Brielle Tishler, MD, who is staying at UMass Medical School for her residency in internal medicine and pediatrics. “We had unique opportunities. Some of us got to be part of vaccination efforts. The school did a great job to support us.”

“Everybody accommodated us at the end of our clinical year during the pandemic,” said new Graduate School of Nursing alum Joseph Prendergast, DNP. “Colleagues and faculty made that happen with everybody working together.”

Andrew Boylan, MD, agreed. “The pandemic was a little bit of a speedbump but I think the school really did a great job adjusting to it.”

Dr. Boylan is a member of the first cohort of School of Medicine students to complete the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health program based at the UMMS-Baystate Health campus in Springfield.

“This has been a nine-year journey and I really can’t believe it’s coming to an end,” said Asia Matthew-Onabanjo, MD, PhD, who is headed to the University of North Carolina for urology residency. “I like to say that in ninth grade, somebody told me that I wouldn’t be standing here and that’s not a story that’s uncommon to people of African-American descent or people of color. The fact that I’m standing here is my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Chancellor Collins' remarks 

Full Commencement ceremony video

Related stories on UMassMed News:
School of Medicine graduating students commended for resilience in year-end ceremony
GSN Class of 2021 celebrates milestones achieved in a remarkable year
Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion celebrated at annual GSBS awards ceremony
GSBS Class of 2021 weather COVID pandemic, graduate with ‘life lessons’
Graduate School of Nursing class speaker Heather Lovelace reflects on honor of serving patients
For GSBS class speaker Sumeet Nayak science brings hope
School of Medicine class speaker Benjamin Cook inspired to ‘help somebody through a difficult time’
LISTEN: Medical students in the first PURCH track cohort prepare to graduate
UMass Medical School to award four honorary degrees at 48th Commencement