Salem State University celebrated awarding nearly 1500 undergraduate and graduate degrees to the class of 2021 and over 1900 undergraduate and graduate degrees to the class of 2020, in virtual ceremonies and small gatherings this month.
All commencement ceremonies aired virtually at 12 pm on Saturday, May 22. Students also had the opportunity to bring guests to small, distanced in-person gatherings in which they crossed the commencement stage and celebrated with members of the campus community. Called Viking Roll Call events, these physically-distanced gatherings were held on May 14 and 15 for the Class of 2020 and May 21 and 22 for the Class of 2021.
The Viking Roll Call events allowed students multiple opportunities to be photographed in their commencement regalia, including on stage with President John Keenan and Provost David Silva. They were also given the option of having a friend, family member, or a university official read their name and degree title as they crossed the stage. This allowed moms, dads, mentors, and others to be part of the ceremony in a new way.
“The Viking Roll Call events allowed us to maintain the most cherished part of commencement – hearing your name and crossing the stage to the applause of friends and family,” said President Keenan. “I know these gatherings were not what students envisioned when they began their degrees, but from where I stood, the excitement and emotion of commencement filled the room. It’s the least we could do for graduates who have overcome so much, and I’m grateful to our team at Salem State for working creatively to uphold the spirit of commencement in a safe and physically distanced way.”
“The Salem State Graduation Ceremony was organized with such great thought with personalized details at every level," said Helena Diamond, of Danvers, who completed her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Educational Leadership and currently serves as head of the math department at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Lynn. "I am beyond appreciative that I was able to celebrate my accomplishment with my husband and children with the intimate awards presentation that allowed for my six year old daughter to present me with my diploma and announce my name as I crossed the stage. After a long year of remote learning, I was able to end the experience by celebrating with my Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study cohort members while enjoying the amazing display of music, food trucks and fun-filled activities. The entire experience from start to finish is now a memory that my family and I will cherish forever."
The Viking Roll Call events were held in the Sophia Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, where faculty and staff gathered both in the balcony and outside the theatre to cheer on graduates. All students who participated were awarded a Viking Strong cord in honor of their perseverance in graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the virtual ceremony, students had the opportunity to hear from commencement speaker Monique W. Morris, EdD, a social justice advocate, award-winning author, and filmmaker. Among her many talks and publications, Morris is the author of the widely acclaimed book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, which inspired a documentary by the same name; and she is the author of the recently published book Sing A Rhythm, Dance A Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls. She was awarded an honorary degree from Salem State University during the ceremony. Morris’s biography is available here.
In her address, Morris encouraged students to be active participants in advancing justice. She said, “All of us are impacted by acts of harm, acts of injustice; so we can’t turn away from those paths that may be different from our own, or that don’t appear to intersect with ours. They will still affect the ecosystem that we’re a part of, so it also impacts us.”
In the virtual commencement ceremonies, students also heard from Provost Silva, President Keenan, Board of Trustees Chair Rob Lutts, Professor and President of the Massachusetts State College Association Salem Chapter Tiffany Gayle Chenault, and Alumni Association President Debra Lee Surface ’05, ‘19G. Student speakers for the 2021 ceremonies included: Francisco Dany Acosta, of Lynn, for the Bertolon School of Business and Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services ceremony; Toiell J. Washington, of Boston, for the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education ceremony; and Brian D’Amico, of Lynn, for the School of Graduate Studies ceremony. The speakers for the 2020 ceremonies included: Frederick Kelley IV, of Melrose, for all undergraduate ceremonies; and Lisa McCarron, of Westford, for the School of Graduate Studies ceremony.
Commencement singers included Akane Ishida, of Chiba-Ken Chiba, Japan (all 2020 ceremonies); Olivia Perez, of Danvers (2021 College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education Ceremony); Maria Rodriguez, of Salem (2021 Bertolon School of Business and Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services ceremony); and Matthew Bollen, of Lynn (2021 Graduate School ceremony).
The Class of 2021 graduates represent 18 states and 20 countries, and the 2020 graduates represent 23 states and 32 countries.