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2020 Commencement a Virtual Success

August 30, 2020
Meyyammai Muthu, SLP '20, gave the virtual keynote address.
Meyyammai Muthu, SLP '20, gave the virtual keynote address.

While the novel coronavirus delayed the MGH Institute’s 2020 Commencement more than three months and required that the event be held virtually, the school’s 566 new graduates were given an enthusiastic sendoff on August 30 as they begin their new careers.

Watch the full 2020 MGH Institute of Health Professions Commencement Ceremony.

Originally scheduled to be held at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center, the event was filmed in its entirety to adhere to state social distancing guidelines. It featured talks by Institute leaders, awarding of the fifth honorary degree in school history, recognition of two alumni for their accomplishments, honoring of four new faculty emeritae, and a moving keynote address by a graduating student.

The event also included a virtual conferring of degrees and certificates that provided an alternative to the traditional walk across the stage when they would have been congratulated in person by President Paula Milone-Nuzzo and academic department leaders.

While the event is a celebration of achievement, hanging over it was the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice that have dominated the attention of the country. “This is not how any of us imagined celebrating the achievements of this outstanding class,” said Dr. Milone-Nuzzo in her remarks. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has separated us in ways that we’ve never experienced before.”

After congratulating the new graduates, she said, “Now, more than ever, the country’s stark racial, health, and economic inequities are all too obvious to continue being ignored. You can contribute to the solutions of these systemic problems by committing to act against racism, standing up for social justice and equality wherever you see it, and wholeheartedly listening to and supporting those who have experienced oppression and marginalization based on the color of their skin. Your role in the fight for equality is more important than ever, and now the hard work begins.”

Student Gives Keynote Address

Meyyammai Muthu, who graduated with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, gave the second keynote address. She told the virtual audience of classmates, parents, and friends how she had to unexpectedly convert her new knowledge into practice when her grandfather had a stroke while visiting from India to attend her marriage. “In a matter of hours, everything I was learning in the classroom came to life,” she said, noting that she spent days at his bedside while keeping a journal of his progress, emailing her faculty for guidance and support, and reassuring him that “progress is always possible, and that the ability to heal is within us all.”

Muthu originally had written her talk at the beginning of 2020, well before the pandemic shut down the campus and students moved to remote learning. Despite the challenges she and her fellow students faced, she told her classmates to take an optimistic view of the crisis.

“During this period, we have also demonstrated to ourselves the importance of a growth mindset – the simple hope that tomorrow can be better than today,” she said. “As we go forward in our careers, I hope we look back at this time of hardship as also a time of growth for ourselves, our community, and our patients. I hope we remember that often, challenges are opportunities, and that sometimes crises can bring clarity.” 

Jeanette Ives Erickson, DNP ’12, gave her remarks from inside Boston Hope, the field hospital co-organized by the Mass General Brigham health system that she helped run to handle overflow patients during the pandemic’s surge in April. She noted that more than 350 faculty, staff, and alumni worked there and throughout the system’s other hospitals. “I was fortunate to see many of them – including some of you in the Class of 2020 – at Boston Hope where you put aside your own safety concerns to provide excellent patient care during a crisis,” said Dr. Ives Erickson, who is chair of the IHP’s Board of Trustees and chief nurse emerita at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It is this type of dedication and service to the greater good that is a hallmark of what it means to be a graduate of the Institute.”

Alumni, Faculty Recognized

Bette Ann Harris, PT, DPT ’02, MS ’83, the first person to earn a graduate degree from the IHP, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the fifth doctorate in school history. She spent 28 years at the school, returning in 1985 as an assistant professor of physical therapy, followed by a series of significant academic leadership positions: department director (1992–2002), special assistant to the president for new initiatives (2002–2007), interim associate academic dean (2007–2008), and associate provost of academic affairs (2008–2012), during which time she was interim director of the newly created Center for Interprofessional Studies and Innovation. 

Her talk was a look back at the IHP’s history and how its focus on interprofessional education was evident from its beginnings. “I am so proud to be part of the IHP and now watch with admiration as the students continue to be active learners. So many of our graduates are true leaders in health care,” she said. It’s been an amazing ride.”

The Institute also recognized two alumni for their achievements:

Andrew Dwyer, PhD, MSN ’00, FNP-BC, received the Bette Ann Harris Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest form of recognition awarded to a graduate. Dwyer, who is an assistant professor of nursing at Boston College, holds leadership positions in several national and international organizations including the Global Genetic Nursing Alliance, International Society for Nurses in Genetics, the European Society of Endocrinology, the European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology, and the Pediatric Endocrine Nursing Society. In 2018, he was inducted into the National Academy of Practitioners (Nursing) as a Distinguished Fellow. 

He has used a PhD from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and a master’s in nursing and certificate in clinical investigation from the IHP, to do impactful research in the fields of endocrinology, genetics, adolescent health and rare diseases. His classmate, Alex Gleason, MSN ’00, said in his letter supporting Dwyer’s nomination, “Andrew is an exceptional alumnus whose commitment to excellence, achievement, and humanity exemplify the ideals of this prestigious award.”

Jinesh Gandhi, MSPT ’14, received the Emerging Leader Alumni Award, given to an alum who graduated within the past 10 years and has made significant contributions to their professional discipline and/or health care in general. Gandhi, a native of India, is a practice case manager with NovaCare Rehabilitation, and supervises physical therapy students at Delaware Technical Community College Physical Therapy. He is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and has a certificate in mechanical diagnosis and therapy from the McKenzie Institute.

Four faculty from the School of Nursing who retired received emerita status: Dr. Inge Corless, Dr. Janet Goodman, Dr. Patricia Lussier-Duynstee, and Dr. Nancy Terres. Combined, they have 96 years of combined service at the Institute.

 After Commencement ended, academic programs held virtual cocktail parties to celebrate.