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Celebrating the Class of 2020

Forging a new path: Unconventional Commencement celebrations highlight resilience, leadership, creativity of the Class of 2020

Screenshot of a Zoom call shows a grid of 32 smiling students ready to graduateBeth Anglin
Before the MD Commencement ceremony, graduates gathered for a virtual huddle with Lisa M. Moscoso, MD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs. The huddle offered a moment of reflection, one that the graduates would typically share before the Commencement processional.

On May 15, 2020, the Washington University Class of 2020 made history. The coronavirus pandemic forced the first-ever cancellation of on-campus Commencement celebrations. Instead, most School of Medicine programs held virtual Commencement ceremonies to honor the Class of 2020.

Amid the unusual and even surreal circumstances, admiration of the graduating class resonated in speeches and celebrations throughout the day.

“I know I speak on behalf of our entire faculty when I say that you have made us all proud and offered us renewed hope in the future of medicine at a time when we are so clearly in need of it,” David H. Perlmutter, MD, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, told graduates at the MD Commencement Recognition Ceremony. “How fortunate we are that you are the future of medicine and medical science. There are challenges ahead, and you are ready for them.”

The virtual Commencement events concluded an unprecedented spring during which graduate students defended theses online, and medical campus students — whose classes were shifted online or postponed — mobilized to help health-care workers and the community.

Keep scrolling for coverage of individual recognition ceremonies, or jump to the ceremony for graduates of:

Universitywide celebrations

Although the 2020 all-university Commencement ceremony on the Danforth Campus was canceled, the university is planning a Class of 2020 celebration next year.

Save the date for Class of 2020 celebration: May 30, 2021

Washington University Chancellor Andrew Martin announces the date for the Class of 2020 in-person commencement celebration: May 30, 2021 on the Danforth campus.

WashU Alma Mater, virtual choral performance

A dozen WashU faculty, staff, students and alumni from the Department of Music recorded separate vocal tracks that were arranged to create a new recording for the Class of 2020.

Doctor of Medicine

The medical Commencement Recognition Ceremony honored 120 doctor of medicine graduates, including 30 graduates earning their MD/PhD through the Medical Scientist Training Program. The virtual ceremony played on YouTube as family and friends around the world posted messages of pride and cheer in the comments and live chat.

In his opening remarks, David H. Perlmutter, MD, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, emphasized that the message he ordinarily would deliver at graduation possessed extraordinary urgency for the Class of 2020. “We now face a problem, a formidable virus that demands solutions grounded in data and scientific imagination,” he said. “We now have a problem that attracts the attention of the entire world to those values that we have emphasized during your education and training here: the selflessness and sacrifice of the physician, our commitment to the sickest and most vulnerable, and the vital importance of basic biomedical research.”

In our new reality, he continued, “all eyes are on physicians, and physician scientists, looking to us to provide solutions.”

“We have watched how you have grown into the physicians you are now,” Perlmutter told the graduates. “Time and again you have looked at your world and figured out how to make it better, safer, more equitable. All of the qualities that we hope to cultivate in the next generation of doctors and scientists, you have them in spades.”

Washington University Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, PhD, spoke next, noting obstacles that the Class of 2020 faced, and the strength that will carry graduates forward. “My charge to you today is that you find ways to live in the present moment, to not let uncertainty overcome your thoughts, and to find ways to use these moments of adversity to learn and grow,” he said.

From the screen, the chancellor asked graduates to stand and accept conferral of their degrees.

Student marshal Kate Douglas, MD, introduced preclinical teacher of the year Steven Cheng, MD, professor of medicine. Graduate L. Brian Hickman, MD, introduced clinical teacher of the year Gerome Escota, MD, professor of medicine.

In his speech, Class President Averey D. Strong, MD, confided his disappointment in the unusual circumstances of their Commencement. “An excellently authored book has been written for each of us here,” he said. “In a way, it feels like I made it all the way to the final chapter, only to find that the last few pages have been ripped out.”

“Remember to take time for yourself,” Strong concluded. “Be kind to yourself, and above all, make meaningful relationships that last a lifetime.”

Following the class president’s message, Eva M. Aagaard, MD, senior associate dean for education and the Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Professor of Medical Education, led the administration of the Declaration of Geneva. The new doctors were asked to stand at home and recite the declaration — a modern version of the Hippocratic oath — as a compilation of recordings submitted by nearly 70 of the graduates played.

Doctor of medicine graduates recite the Declaration of Geneva as part of the Washington University School of Medicine virtual MD Commencement Recognition Ceremony.
Video: Huy Mach/Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Lisa M. Moscoso, MD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs, then led the presentation of doctors. As each graduating doctor was announced, the video displayed his or her photo or a short video message submitted by the graduate.

The ceremony concluded with a montage of photos and video clips arranged by members of the Class of 2021. Clips included emotional moments from the 2016 White Coat Ceremony, the first rite of passage that many of the graduates celebrated together.

Watch the full ceremony:

Audiology & Communication Sciences

The Program in Audiology & Communication Sciences awarded degrees to 25 students graduating from the master’s in deaf education, doctor of audiology and doctor of philosophy programs. The program’s pre-edited video celebration featured faculty, staff, students, family and friends sharing messages of gratitude, celebration and pride.

Family and friends of PACS graduates shared brief videos that were shown at the conclusion of the virtual ceremony.

William W. Clark, PhD, director of the Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences, addressed the graduates. “We are enormously proud of the 25 professionals who will take our mission to the reaches of our nation to serve our principle goal: improving the lives and futures of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families,” he said.

Among the graduates were Robin Elizabeth Lockwood, MSDE, recognized for outstanding scholarship in teaching the hearing impaired with the Antoinette Frances Dames Award, and Emily Janae Camacho, AuD, who received the Max A. Goldstein Award, which recognizes excellence and professional promise.

Heather Grantham, PhD, director of deaf education studies and associate professor of otolaryngology, told MSDE graduates to set the bar high as they enter careers teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing. “Bring your very best selves to those children, just as you brought your best selves to us in PACS.”

Amanda J. Ortmann, PhD, director of audiology studies and assistant professor of audiology and communication sciences, shared the program’s pride in the AuD graduates. “Know that we have full confidence that you are going to change the lives of individuals and families in the hearing-impaired community.”

Family and friends shared brief videos of exuberant celebration, and then Clark concluded by saying, “We look forward to the great things you will accomplish over the next generation.”

Watch the full ceremony:

Occupational Therapy

The virtual ceremony for the Program in Occupational Therapy recognized 87 graduates; 36 in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program and 51 in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree program. Maribeth Clifton was Class Marshal for the doctoral degree graduates; Molly Julia Cutler was Class Marshal for graduates of the master’s degree program.

Lisa Tabor Connor, PhD, MSOT, OTR/L, the Elias Michael Executive Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, addressed the graduates. “This may not be the commencement day you imagined, but the unconventional nature of this ceremony does not diminish your achievements.”

Keynote speaker Russell-Thomas, OTD, OTR/L, addressed graduates of the occupational therapy programs during the Commencement ceremony.

Keynote speaker Duana Russell-Thomas, OTD, OTR/L, clinical specialist with the program, acknowledged that it is the occupational therapist’s job to find solutions to help people live their best lives, often working with few resources. “If necessity is the mother of invention, let it give birth! To new horizons in your life, in the lives of others, in your clients and the world around you.”

Faculty speaker Quinn Tyminski, OTD, OTR/L, emphasized the importance of self-care. “Strengthening your emotional, physical and mental well-being so that you can continue to provide quality health care to others isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.”

The student speakers were Sofia Monarrez and Leanna Namovic.

“Your training here at the Washington University Program in Occupational Therapy has prepared you to make the difference the world needs right now,” Connor concluded. “I am so excited to leave the future of the profession in your hands.”

Watch the full ceremony:

Physical Therapy

Gammon M. Earhart, PT, PhD, FAPTA, director of the Program in Physical Therapy,
addressed doctoral candidates at the virtual hooding ceremony, saying, “Today we recognize you, 89 amazing students who have worked diligently over the past three years.” She acknowledged the challenging circumstances, and thanked students for being not only “really smart” but also “adaptable, patient and kind.”

Steven Ambler, PT, DPT, PhD, MPH, associate director of professional curriculum in physical therapy, introduced faculty speaker Stacy Tylka, PT, DPT, WCS, CLT-LANA, associate professor of physical therapy.

Tylka, who was chosen to speak by the Class of 2020, said the new graduates “have exponential potential to help our health-care system face challenges like COVID-19.” She encouraged them to contribute their creativity and professionalism to better serve all patients as individuals, including the most vulnerable. “I can’t wait for all of the wonderful new innovations you will share with us,” Tylka said, “and all of the lives you will improve in doing so.”

Among the graduates were Maurice Whalen Jr., DPT, and Daniel Guthrie, DPT, recognized for excellence in clinical education with the Beatrice Schulz Award; Kristin Koch, DPT, recognized for exceptional contributions in research with the Steven J. Rose Research Award; and Jacob Raecker, DPT, recipient of the Director’s Award for outstanding and impactful presence in the classroom, clinic and/or community.

Raecker also was chosen by his peers to be the student speaker. He talked about the strong bonds formed among his classmates, saying, “Everybody could easily name 10 times where they were feeling overwhelmed or out of whack when they were pulled back to sanity by the kindness of a classmate.”

Jennifer Stith, PT, PhD, LCSW, director of education, presented the graduates of the professional clinical doctorate curriculum. Earhart read each student’s name as his or her photo appeared alongside a prewritten message of thanks to family, friends and faculty.

Earhart concluded the ceremony by reflecting on the fact that the Class of 2020 entered the program as SPTs on the day of the total solar eclipse and finished as DPTs during a global pandemic, saying, “You shine so bright that even these circumstances cannot eclipse all that you have accomplished and all that you will achieve as you embark on your physical therapy careers.”

Immediately following the ceremony, program faculty and staff joined graduates for a virtual toast and reception to celebrate.

Master’s program graduates: MSCI, AHBR & MPHS

The master’s programs in clinical investigation (MSCI) and applied health behavior research (AHBR) shared a Commencement message and congratulations on the Clinical Research Training Center website.

The Master of Population Health Sciences (MPHS) program is assessing ways to gather and celebrate its graduates. The program has posted recognition of each graduate on the MPHS website.

Division of Biology & Biological Sciences

The Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences (DBBS) is planning a virtual Commencement ceremony to recognize PhD graduates on June 12, 2020. Speakers and other details are being finalized. Contact Joel Dalton for more information: