Virtual Connections and Celebrations for the Class of 2020

May 29, 2020
Virtual Connections and Celebrations for the Class of 2020

In the midst of a pandemic, celebrating Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s graduating class took on a different look and feel than ever before. For the first time in Harvard’s 384-year history, Commencement and Class Day ceremonies were held virtually due to COVID-19. Graduates and their families, friends, and supporters celebrated from their homes, tuning in from around the country and the globe to watch the virtual festivities and applaud the Class of 2020’s accomplishments.

The virtual ceremonies began the morning of Thursday, May 28, with a live broadcast of the University-wide ceremony led by Harvard President Larry Bacow.

“Two months of pandemic cannot be allowed to overshadow your years of hard work...Faced with obstacles, each of you mustered your courage, set your sights, and overcame the insurmountable,” Bacow said.

Graduate remarks and performances highlighted the achievements of the graduating class, as well as a special performance by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The keynote address was given by Martin “Marty” Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, who emphasized the importance of a free press, and the pursuit of facts and science.

Collage of graduate photos
HSDM graduates celebrated at home with their families while watching the virtual ceremonies.
Deans from each of the Harvard graduate schools and Harvard College recognized their graduates, and degrees were conferred ceremonially. HSDM Interim Dean, Vicki Rosen awarded 56 degrees—12 Master of Medical Sciences, 10 Doctor of Medical Sciences, and 34 Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degrees.

In the afternoon, HSDM’s DMD graduates gathered online for a virtual ceremony hosted by Class of 2020 president, Jacob Emge. The ceremony featured remarks by faculty as well as graduate Michael Baron, who urged his classmates to stay grounded in their humanity.

“As Harvard graduates, it is incumbent upon us to foster a community that emphasizes our humanity and celebrates our diversity. It is our responsibility to fight against every injustice we witness, tooth and nail...Our job reaches beyond the clinic – beyond the hospital – and as the mission statement painted on the walls of HSDM states, we must 'foster a community of global leaders dedicated to improving human health.' Among us sit the leaders of tomorrow," he said.

Sang Park, associate dean for dental education, congratulated the class and acknowledged the hurdles they faced in the final months of their program.

“We will remember each and every one of you as the class that has experienced an unimaginable crisis and showed resilience, integrity, and strong character,” Park said.

Following the DMD ceremony, the dental graduates joined their medical school classmates for a virtual Class Day ceremony.

HSDM’s Class Day speaker Ryan Lisann, DMD20, spoke from his Cambridge apartment, urging his classmates to use their Harvard education to help others. “As future healthcare providers, we have the power to give a voice to our patients who don’t have one. In just a few moments, we’ll become Harvard grads with fancy diplomas, which means people will listen to us. Let’s use this leverage to help those who don’t have the same privilege we have been afforded,” he said.

video screenshot of Ryan Lisann giving speech
Ryan Lisann served as HSDM's Class Day speaker, delivering his remarks virtually
Keynote speaker, astronaut and physician Robert Satcher Jr. also emphasized the inequity and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in the African American community.

“We have absolutely no reason to feel that we cannot do anything about the current situation,” Satcher said. “You are soon-to-be graduates of the best medical school in the country and probably worldwide. Your voices are not only important but are sorely needed.”

HMS Dean George Q. Daley reflected on the moment in time and parallels in history of the current pandemic and other historic challenges.

“Serving in times of crisis is part of the inspiration that drew us to medicine, and no matter how much the world changes, the central calling of our profession—to heal and to help those who need our talents, training, skills, and compassion—that will never change,” he said.

“This is a historic moment in medicine, your very own rendezvous with destiny. It will shape the doctors, and the individuals, that you will become,” Daley added.

Rather than walking across the stage to receive their diploma, in the virtual ceremony each member of the HSDM and HMS class was recognized by name while a personalized slide was displayed on screen.

This year’s DMD graduates will go on to pursue residencies and career opportunities in many different areas. Eleven graduates will into oral and maxillofacial surgery, six into pediatric dentistry, six in endodontics, four into general practice residencies, three in orthodontics, and two in advanced education programs in general dentistry.

 “We had hoped to teach you how to be resilient. In the end, you showed us what resilience really means,” said Vicki Rosen. “Not only have you accomplished what many could not have, but you have done it with a measure of grace that is inspiring...You are well-prepared to shape the future of health care, and we eagerly look forward to seeing where your dreams will take you.”

View the Commencement award recipients 

Read profile stories featuring several Class of 2020 graduates

See also: Students