Special ceremonies celebrate students who graduated last yearMay. 5, 2021, 4:21 PM
On Sunday, May 2, the Class of 2020 of Vanderbilt University Schools of Medicine and Nursing and the Graduate School held in-person commencement ceremonies for students earning degrees. While the classes participated in virtual ceremonies last year, many opted to return to campus to celebrate with friends, family and faculty.
School of Medicine
by Kathy Whitney
“Today we honor the achievements of this truly historic class as well as the generous support so many of you have given to our graduates all along their journeys,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of the School of Medicine, in welcoming those gathered under a tent on the recreation field. “We are so pleased you could all be with us one year later to participate in recognizing their wonderful achievements.”
Faculty marshals, selected by the class graduation committee for their preeminent influence on the class of 2020 included Bonnie Miller, MD, MMHC, André Churchwell, MD, Steven Eskind, MD, Howard Fuchs, MD (posthumously), Melissa Duff, PhD, Marie Griffin, MD, MPH, Alp Ikizler, MD, and David Pickens, PhD. Class president, Varun Menon, MD, was the banner bearer.
Scott Pearson, MD, professor of Surgery and recipient of the 2020 Shovel Award for excellence in teaching, read the names of those present as they walked across the stage after donning their own hoods while socially distanced.
Dean Balser recognized Founder’s Medalist for the VUSM class of 2020, Kianna Jackson, MD, from Evansville, Indiana. She is the first African American to receive that honor from VUSM. Jackson is a first-year resident in plastic surgery at VUMC.
“Much has happened in Nashville and the world since the conferral of your degrees one year ago, most obviously the COVID pandemic has continued. We’ve also seen vaccines created and distributed in record time with Vanderbilt a lead contributor in that process,” said Donald Brady, MD, senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education. “Individually, each of you graduates has weathered your own storms and seen your own triumphs throughout the past year as you have taken what you learned here as students and applied that education in your effort to alleviate suffering, promote health and discover new knowledge.”
The School of Medicine awarded degrees to 168 graduates in 2020, including the Doctor of Medicine to 82 students.
All told, the School of Medicine awarded the following degrees for the Class of 2020:
- 10 Doctor of Audiology;
- 4 Doctor of Medical Physics;
- 82 Doctor of Medicine, including students who earned a dual degree
- 2 Master of Education of the Deaf;
- 5 Master of Laboratory Investigation;
- 28 Master of Public Health
- 8 Master of Science in Clinical Investigation;
- 4 Master of Science in Medical Physics;
- 21 Master of Science (Speech Language Pathology); and
- 2 Master of Science (Applied Clinical Informatics)
by Leigh MacMillan
Jordan Anderson-Daniels, PhD, one of the 76 students who earned a doctoral degree in the biomedical sciences from Vanderbilt during the 2019-2020 academic year, enjoyed marking his degree at the Graduate School ceremony held at Vanderbilt Stadium on May 2 .
It allowed his mother to help celebrate the accomplishment, he said, something that wasn’t possible last year.
“It was fun being able to have the ceremony in the stadium, and even though it was mostly empty with everyone spaced out, it felt very comfortable,” Anderson-Daniels said. “My mom was very glad she could be there and experience it.”
André Christie-Mizell, PhD, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School, congratulated the graduates on their high achievement and exhorted them to incorporate the lessons of the last year into their lives.
“My challenge to you today is to combine what you’ve learned from struggle and adversity with the Vanderbilt values of hard work, civility and compassion for others to produce a life well-lived wherever you go, whether it is the academy, industry, or other places that your careers may take you,” he said.
Graduates who completed biomedical science PhD degrees during 2019-2020 published an average of 4.8 scientific papers as a result of their graduate studies. Their research appeared in highly respected journals including Science, Cell, Nature Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation, according to Abigail Brown, PhD, director of Outcomes Research in the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training.
Three-quarters of the group gave oral presentations at national or international meetings and 99% gave oral or poster presentations. The students were supported by external fellowships (41%) and/or institutional NIH training grant fellowships (79%).
Most of the graduates continued their training with postdoctoral fellowships, including traditional positions in academic research laboratories as well as non-traditional industry, government and clinical fellowships.
Anderson-Daniels, who completed his dissertation focused on HIV in late 2019, opted to remain at Vanderbilt as a postdoctoral fellow working with Mark Denison, MD.
“I was interested in learning the complex biology of coronavirus replication,” Anderson-Daniels said. “I had no idea that I would very quickly transition to working on a pandemic pathogen.”
School of Nursing
by Nancy Wise
After a 12-month wait, the Vanderbilt School of Nursing Class of 2020 celebrated — and was celebrated — in person during Investiture ceremonies held on campus May 2. The intimate ceremony for graduates, family and friends was both traditional and innovative as it accommodated COVID-19 safety protocols while still retaining appropriate pomp and circumstance.
In her address to graduates, Dean Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN, observed that they had been working as advanced practice nurses and leaders in the time since they finished their degrees, and as such, they had experienced the COVID-19 pandemic on the front lines and in the trenches of patient care.
“COVID-19 will not be the last public health emergency the world will see. It may not even be the last public health emergency you or I will see,” Norman said. “When the next emergency hits — and it will — nurses will again be ready with knowledge, compassion, skill and perseverance. That is what nurses do. That is who nurses are.
“I told you last year that the world needs you more than ever. I meant it, and I still do,” Norman said. “You are the present, you are the future, and you are the hope of nursing.”
The ceremony also included a video message from Provost Susan Wente and recognition of the School of Nursing 2020 Founder’s Medalist, Jane Mericle, DNP’20, and the class’s banner bearer, Gwendolyn Godlock, DNP’20, who also served as the class representative in planning the previous year’s virtual events and current ceremonies.
In a change from Investiture tradition, graduates donned their own hoods at the same time in a group hooding ceremony rather than have their hoods put on them by faculty. The graduates then walked across the platform individually as their names were called, collected an apricot rose symbolizing the nursing discipline and were photographed with Norman and their program director.
The Class of 2020 included 328 Master of Science in Nursing and 70 Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates who finished their programs in August 2019, December 2019 and May 2020. An additional three PhD in Nursing Science graduates were honored in Vanderbilt Graduate School ceremonies.