Class of 2021 Honored at 197th Commencement

Speakers praise graduates for their spirit, determination and resilience in the face of the pandemic.

Over two sun-soaked days, hundreds of members of the Jefferson Class of 2021 danced, strutted and walked across the stage at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts to proudly accept their degrees.

The three picturesque in-person ceremonies on May 13 and 14 honored University undergraduates from all Colleges and Schools and graduate students from the Colleges of Health Professions, Architecture and the Built Environment, Nursing and Design, Engineering and Commerce and School of Continuing and Professional Studies. (Two additional ceremonies will be held on May 25 for Sidney Kimmel Medical College, graduate College of Life Sciences and the Colleges of Pharmacy, Population Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.)

Group of students at graduation
Hundreds of Jefferson students received their degrees at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

Of course, Jefferson’s 197th Commencement differed from all previous ceremonies due to the pandemic. Logistical changes, such as spaced-out seating and no handshakes with University leadership, didn’t dampen the excitement, though.

Cheers, applause and airhorns from loved ones in attendance filled the air, and students—as always—showed off their creativity by putting personal touches on their caps. For example, one architecture student’s mortarboard read, “She designed a life she loves,” and another’s said, “All it took was faith, trust and pixie dust.”

Decorated graduation caps
Many students showed off their creativity with decorated mortarboards.

University president Dr. Stephen K. Klasko shared their excitement and praised students for not only enduring, but growing, during the pandemic.

“Every year, I say we’re graduating the most talented class in our history, and I believe that’s certainly true this year,” Dr. Klasko notes. “But one thing is for certain: Forever and ever, the Class of 2021 will be viewed as the single most resilient class. You spent the last year helping us build our HyFlex model of education, you lead the fight for social justice, you worked on pandemic causes and helped patients and employees vote during the election. You applied your creativity. You survived and thrived.”

Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, also remarked on the spirit of the graduating class.

“Despite the surrealness of the pandemic haze, you’ve continued to dream, to imagine the possible, to frame aspirations and to talk of breaking boundaries despite the challenges,” he says. “Your student projects, whether they be in design, fashion, architecture, health sciences or engineering, your conversations, your community outreach activities—all speak to it.”

Dr. Klasko on stage
Dr. Stephen K. Klasko praised grads for their resilience. "You survived and thrived," he says.

In another break from Commencement tradition, all speakers and honorary degree recipients came from the Jefferson community.

When receiving her honorary degree at the undergrad ceremony, noted philanthropist and alumna Eileen Voynick ’86 urged graduates to be less judgmental and apply their open hearts and minds to their careers.

“May you go out and improve lives kindly, with practicality and passion combined,” says the board of directors member for CDK Global and r3.

Students at commencement
The pandemic forced some logistical changes at Commencement, but it didn't dampen the spirit of graduates.

In accepting her honorary degree at the day’s second ceremony, Kelly Zabriskie, enterprise vice president of infection control at Jefferson Health, stressed the importance of choosing a job you love and refusing to settle.

“Don’t see any barriers in front of you,” says Zabriskie, winner of Jefferson’s inaugural Healthcare Hero Award. “Don’t focus on the negatives. Focus on what you want. I truly believe that has led me to be standing in front of you today.”

The third Commencement ceremony celebrated all undergrad and graduate students from the College of Nursing. Speakers frequently highlighted their flexibility and tremendous work in pandemic efforts, including vaccinating Jefferson employees and students.

“Graduates, I’m in awe of all you have navigated,” says Dr. Kate FitzPatrick, Jefferson Health’s Connelly Foundation chief nurse executive officer, in her honorary degree acceptance speech. “Dealing with the uncertainty, caring for your own families, working, forced isolation, switching to virtual clinicals—all of this as the world shut down.”

Group of students at commencement
The Class of 2021 enjoyed picture-perfect weather for Jefferson's 197th Commencement.

Undergrad keynote speaker Dr. Geoffrey Cromarty also praised all students for their dedication over the past few years and, in particular, an unprecedented 15 months.

“You came here with a dream,” says Jefferson’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer. “We did everything we could to support, nourish and give meaning to those dreams. Now, it is in your hands. What award do you want to win? Don’t tell me. I’ll soon find out.”

In addition, Dr. Cromarty gave a shout-out to the 18 graduating seniors on the baseball team. Immediately after the ceremony, they went on to defeat Chestnut Hill in the CACC Tournament semifinal.

Baseball player Efrain Santiago and his parents
After Commencement, Efrain Santiago hit two home runs and propelled the Rams into the CACC title game.

Pre-medical studies grad and catcher Efrain Santiago went 4-4 and hit two home runs, including a grand slam.

“It was amazing graduating in the morning and then being able to perform like that for my team, especially in front of my friends and family,” says Santiago, who plans to attend graduate school for pharmacy. “I’ll never forget this special day.”

Student Brittney Bell on stage
"Our University is full of changemakers," says Brittney Bell, Student Government Association president.

Classmate Brittney Bell echoed this enthusiasm. In her speech as Student Government Association president, the health sciences grad and future Jefferson nursing student congratulated everyone for the obstacles they overcame during the pandemic. However, she also emphasized the work toward a brighter future must continue.

“Our University is full of changemakers, and we knew we had each other to push through to the promise of a better tomorrow,” she says. “We’ve been tasked with not going back to what we know to be normal, but with coming up a new and better world and way to function. If our world is going to get better, it’s up to us.”

Watch the replays of the three Commencements. On May 25, Jefferson will hold two more Commencement ceremonies: for Sidney Kimmel Medical College and graduate College of Life Sciences; and for the Colleges of Pharmacy, Population Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

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