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NewsMay 18, 2020

Celebrating the Class of 2020 virtually, with heart

Commencement postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lesley lauds its newest alumni online

The global COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of undergraduate and graduate Commencement, but nothing could keep Lesley University from paying homage to the hard work, achievements and spirit of the Class of 2020 on May 16.

Though the formal, in-person Commencement and Threshold Program Graduation ceremonies will be rescheduled, approximately 1,300 people earned degrees or certificates, becoming the latest alumni of the Lesley family.

Since the university could not celebrate with the new graduates in person, video messages from President Janet L. Steinmayer, Board of Trustees Chair Hans D. Strauch, Lesley faculty and staff, and a contingent of family, friends, fellow students — as well as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — expressed their love and respect for the newest members of Lesley’s community of 90,000 alumni.

The marking of the May 16 date, when Commencement was originally scheduled, followed a multimedia #Lesley2020 Spirit Week across our social media platforms, creating a virtual tapestry of celebration of graduates and the Lesley community as a whole.

“On behalf of the university Board of Trustees, I extend congratulations on your academic and creative achievements, and best wishes as you begin the next chapter on your life’s journey,” said Strauch in his message to students. “We are so proud of you.”

Undergraduates rose to the challenge

Before presenting some of the past year’s highlights and accomplishments of the undergraduate Class of 2020, President Steinmayer acknowledged the challenges presented this year by the coronavirus pandemic, and applauded students for rising to the challenge.

“I’m struck by this historic moment, where you’ve adapted so remarkably to this worldwide calamity,” the president said. “It’s a profound achievement in itself, one I think you’ll always remember.”

Steinmayer mentioned the 137 adult learners among the graduates (“Some of you strived for as long as 20 years to reach this moment.”), the 20 newly minted alumni of Threshold, a certificate program for college-age students with unique and diverse learning challenges, and the first five graduates from our cohort who studied at the DeMello International Center in New Bedford, Lesley’s newest educational partnership.

“During your four years here, you contributed more than 23,000 hours to community service,” the president added. “In the past few months, I’ve seen how Lesley’s focus on the ‘human arts’ has given our students the skills and ability to cope with unexpected challenges.

“I’m impressed, and oftentimes astonished, by how members of our Lesley community — and especially you, our new graduates — have embraced innovative ways to learn, to teach, to connect, to create, to practice their art.”

The undergraduate Class of 2020 also received video accolades, both heartfelt and humorous, from faculty and staff across the university, including from College of Art and Design Dean Amy Green Deines, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Shapiro, and leaders of the Center for the Adult Learner, Threshold, the Career and Community Service offices, Student Activities, Athletics, the Counseling Center (aided by Tally the therapy dog) and the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Even Capitol Hill couldn’t contain its admiration for the Class of 2020.

“I am so grateful for your contributions to our community,” said Congresswoman Pressley, who represents Massachusetts’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you personally, but (also) what’s in store for our commonwealth and our country because of the contributions, the great contributions, I know you’ll make as artists, as educators, as social workers, as nation builders … I am so proud to be your congresswoman.”

9 photos of graduates in individual locations wearing their cap and gown and holding up signs like "I did it"
Master's of education graduate students in Temecula, California celebrate their accomplishments while socially distancing. Photo courtesy Colleen Smith.

Congresswoman Pressley added that she has firsthand knowledge of the university’s impact.

“I know just exactly how great you can all be because my chief-of-staff, Sarah Groh, is a proud Lesley University alum.”

Massachusetts’s senior U.S. senator added that Lesley’s graduates represent an auspicious future for the nation.

“Your spirit, your compassion and your courage to fight for your friends, your neighbors and your world: you are the future of America,” said Warren, “an America that reflects our best values.”

Graduate alumni ‘committed to having an impact’

President Steinmayer acknowledged the more than 700 graduates receiving master’s degrees, including the first Urban Scholars Initiative student to receive the advanced degree, and the 37 alumni who received their doctorates.

“You’re an incredible community of educators and artists and counselors and expressive therapists,” President Steinmayer said, “writers and mindfulness practitioners and global scholars who are committed to having an impact on individuals and communities. …

“I’ve seen you come together through dance, through poetry, through photography, through storytelling and film. I see how you’ve taken time to care for each other, and the people around you, with resilience and humor and compassion.”

Graduate alumni also received well-wishes from faculty, staff and the interim deans of the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences and the Graduate School of Education, Sandra Walker and Amy Rutstein-Riley, respectively.

“The world needs your talents, your passions and your contributions more than ever, right now,” said David Nurenberg, associate professor of education. “Go out there and use what you’ve learned at Lesley to make a difference!”