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Marymount University in-person ceremony sees 620 graduate

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After virtual ceremonies last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marymount University in Arlington offered in-person, outdoor ceremonies May 14-16 for 2021 graduates while also celebrating the Class of 2020.

Commencement ceremonies were organized by college, with undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students together, and held on the Converse Family Field. Students who qualified for graduation from the Fall 2020, Spring 2021 and Summer 2021 semesters were included.

Kicking off Commencement Weekend was the ceremony for the College of Health and Education May 14. Degrees were conferred to 187 students in nursing, health sciences, counseling and education.

In her speeches to graduates, Marymount President Irma Becerra described how members of the Class of 2021 demonstrated their ability to be "antifragile," a term coined by author Nassim Taleb.

"It would have been hard enough to simply reach this point by getting to commencement, but you did this under incredible stress and shock due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And as a result, you emerged more successful and stronger than ever," she said. "Not only were you robust and resilient during this pandemic, but you thrived and graduated. The difficulties you overcame this year made you stronger."

Marymount Provost Hesham El-Rewini echoed those sentiments as he encouraged graduates to reflect on their future roles in society and how they can make a difference in their desired career field.

"This graduation ceremony comes at a time when we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, after facing unprecedented challenges during the past 14 months," he said. "The fact that we are here together — in person, happy and celebrating your success should give us all hope that tomorrow will be better, brighter and full of possibilities."

Addressing the College of Health and Education graduates was James Dyke Jr., senior advisor of state government relations at McGuireWoods Consulting and Marymount trustee. Dyke shared how his grandfather taught in a one-room segregated school for four decades. His mother and several aunts and cousins were lifelong teachers. "I was raised with the certainty that education is the key to realizing dreams, even in an America of inequality, inequity and intolerance," he said. "It is through education that we understand the world in which we live and are better capable of overcoming obstacles. I would not be standing here today but for the talent, dedication and inspiration of my teachers who gave fully of themselves to assure that this Black student received an excellent education, most notably while attending segregated schools — an education that enabled me to realize my dreams against all odds."

May 15, 165 Saints received degrees from the College of Sciences and Humanities for students in the fields of humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Johnson served as guest speaker and honorary degree recipient. Well-known for co-founding Black Entertainment Television (BET)and becoming the first African American woman to attain a net worth of $1 billion, Johnson is the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resortsand the Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. She is also the only African American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Wizards, NHL’s Capitals and WNBA’s Mystics.

She told the graduates that the obstacles and challenges they have faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic will benefit them as they enter the workforce.

"The generations that came before you never fully knew what it’s like to go to school virtually, to learn virtually, to interact with your teachers and classmates virtually and to try to virtually experience one of the most mind-altering and eye-opening times of anyone’s life — but you do," Johnson said.

May 16, the College of Business, Innovation, Leadership and Technology (BILT) conferred degrees to 269 graduates who heard from guest speaker Donald Graham. The business leader was presented with the Mother Gerard Phelan Gold Medal for achievements of an exemplary nature. Past recipients have included First Lady Nancy Reagan, Baroness Maria von Trapp and others.

Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post and chairman of the board for Graham Holdings Company, also serves on Facebook’s board of directors and as trustee of the Federal City Council and Gates Policy Initiative. He co-founded both the District of Columbia College Access Program and TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for DREAMers. Marymount is one of the program’s founding partner colleges.

Graham encouraged graduates to move forward in their careers at their own pace and to not be discouraged by negative predictions about the future.

"I’ve read a lot about challenges your generation is supposed to face — you will be the first generation in American history to not do better than your parents, and so on. Do not believe a word of those predictions. The people doing the predicting almost certainly do not know what they are talking about," Graham said. "I promise you, the world will change in unpredictable ways in your lifetime. Do not start out believing the pessimists. Making things change starts with believing they can change."

Marymount also held "A Celebration for the Academic Year: 2019-2020 Graduates," May 15 in the Lee Center on campus. This gave Marymount graduates from one year ago a special opportunity to celebrate their academic achievement in person.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021