2021 Commencement a Virtual Success

August 30, 2021
Screen grab of JP in his cap and gown in front of a row of white flags with the IHP logo in teal on them
JP Bonadonna spoke of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx residents and other vulnerable populations

For the second year in a row, MGH Institute of Health Professions held its graduation ceremony virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The 2021 Commencement, in which 583 students graduated—the largest class in the school’s 44-year history—featured talks by Institute leaders, the awarding of the sixth honorary degree in school history, recognition of two alumni for their accomplishments, and a moving keynote address by a graduating student. 

It also included a virtual conferring of degrees and certificates, messages by Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin and MGH Institute Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Jeanette Ives Erickson, and insights from several recent alumni who told the Class of 2021 about the IHP community of more than 9,000 graduates they will be joining in the health professions. 



President Dr. Paula Milone-Nuzzo congratulated the new graduates for persevering during the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to rage across the world. “Over the past year and a half, you have lived with incredible uncertainty—how the pandemic would play out, where you would be living, how you would be learning—all the while trying to ensure your safety and that of your family,” she said. “And throughout all this, you have been extraordinary. You have inspired us by showing the true IHP spirit of leadership. The lessons learned in adapting during this time will serve you well in the future as a health care professional.” 

Milone-Nuzzo also spoke of the country’s stark racial, health, and economic inequities. “You can contribute to the solutions of these systemic problems by continuing your commitment to act against racism, standing up for social justice and equality wherever you see it, and supporting those who have experienced oppression and marginalization based on the color of their skin,” she said. 

Keynote Address on Injustice and Resiliency 

In his keynote address, John Paul Bonadonna spoke of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx residents, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, people who are incarcerated, and other vulnerable populations in Greater Boston.  

Bonadonna, who graduated with a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree, was also vice president of the Student Government Association, founded the annual Cultural Science Day at Harvard-Kent Elementary School, founded the IHP Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity chapter, and co-founded the IHP Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Groups in Healthcare.

“To practice business as usual is to be complicit in a system that provides different levels of care depending on the color of your skin, how much money you make, your disability status, your immigrant status, and so on,” he said. “So how will we choose to let the challenges of the past year shape us? What kind of health care providers will we choose to be?”  

Sixth Honorary Degree Awarded 

Ann Caldwell, president of the MGH Institute from 1997−2007, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the sixth honorary doctorate in school history.  

Her fundraising excellence helped the school receive a $2 million gift from the Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation to purchase Building 36 in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Another $2.4 million in funding she oversaw allowed the Institute to create a state-of-the-art health care education facility and a permanent home for the IHP while stabilizing its finances and launching several new programs while reinvigorating the Institute’s commitment to interprofessional education. 

Two Alumni Recognized for Their Achievements 

Melissa Agrimanakis, DPT ’10, received the Bette Ann Harris Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest form of recognition awarded to a graduate. As a clinical specialist PT on the spinal cord injury inpatient unit at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, she often combines her skills as a competitive ballroom dancer and former ballerina with an infectious, light-hearted personality to motivate her patients.   

Dr. Agrimanakis, who received a clinical scholar’s independent research award in 2016 to investigate using neuromuscular electrical stimulation on gluteal and hamstring muscles to improve healing time for patients, also works with STAND: The Haiti Project since 2016, traveling to Port-de-Paix several times a year to provide pro bono care in a clinic for individuals with chronic and acute wounds and neurological diagnoses.  

Tesiah Coleman, MSN ’19, 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. As a student, Coleman’s leadership in the student organization Students for Racial Justice in Healthcare connected many IHP students across disciplines, both socially and professionally. 

Following graduation, Coleman analyzed and synthesized data she gathered at the Institute to name and address structural, institutional, and societal racism, resulting in a paper published in Educational Innovations entitled, “Anti-Racism in Nursing Education: Recommendations for Racial Justice Praxis.”  

She currently works at an innovative clinic for women of color that prioritizes making interdisciplinary and holistic care accessible via telehealth and through an online platform. 

After the event ended, academic programs held virtual cocktail parties to celebrate their respective graduates’ achievements. 

If you would like to watch this year's graduation ceremony (or past years) in full, please visit our commencement page.