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A screen capture of New York Health Commissioner Harold Zucker, MD, JD, from Upstate's 2020 virtual Commencement.

Upstate’s 419 graduates enter a ‘temporarily troubled world as graduates and heroes,’ after first-ever virtual Commencement

Upstate Medical University conducted its first-ever virtual Commencement Friday morning, conferring degrees on 419 students who graduated from Upstate’s four colleges.

Upstate’s Commencement was originally set for May 3 at the SRC Arena on the Onondaga Community College campus, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, all large gatherings have been canceled, necessitating the virtual ceremony.

Interim President Mantosh Dewan, MD, the college deans and other speakers emphasized Commencement’s unique circumstances and praised members of the class of 2020 for their resilience and dedication to a field centered on helping others.

“More than ever, we need each and every one of you,” Dewan said. “Close your eyes and walk across a splendid stage and out into a temporarily troubled world as a graduate and a hero.”

Dewan thanked students’ families for their unwavering support and the Upstate faculty for imparting their wisdom. He touched upon the global coronavirus pandemic and how the class of 2020 will be called upon as humanitarians as well as medical professionals.

“Today we watch with pride as you commence onto an even bigger stage and embrace wonderful new roles,” he said. “These roles will call for the best in you. You are going out into a scary world not to do a job but to follow your profession; to fulfill your higher calling, to pursue your dreams of changing the world. You are everyday heroes that we so desperately need.

“Most importantly, you will be human at a time when a hug is more precious than gold. When you provide the only love and humanity to a suffering person isolated from everyone they love. And you will bring hope.”

New York Health Commissioner Harold Zucker, MD, JD, was the ceremony’s featured speaker. Zucker has been at the center of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response and was Upstate’s Commencement speaker in 2019 as well. Zucker highlighted Upstate graduates’ efforts during the pandemic including 65 students who graduated early to assist with efforts near New York City and those in Syracuse who were active researching emerging COVID-19 literature and in-person support to clinicians on the front lines.

“I am immensely proud of all of you as you are the best this university stands for,” Zucker said. “You are embracing new professions at a moment of incredible public need that did not exist a year ago when I addressed the class that came before you.”

Zucker praised Upstate’s joint Commencement as it celebrates graduates from the colleges of nursing, health professions, medicine and graduate studies. He said it represented healthcare’s necessary and growing focus on collaboration, which has proven beneficial in the state’s fight against COVID-19.

“The future I see for healthcare is not one of complacency but of resiliency and ingenuity and that’s what we have seen on the front lines fighting this pandemic in New York state,” Zucker said. “We have seen incredible resourcefulness, the strength derived from compassionate peer support; an unflagging dedication to making the system work better in the future.”

Upstate’s virtual commencement broadcast, included a live chat feature where the more than 1,000 people viewing could also express congratulations to the graduates. Friends and families kept a steady stream of “congratulations” going throughout the one-hour, online ceremony. One commenter wrote, “You will make the world a better place than you found it!”

The ceremony included a message from Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon who congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to stay and work in Central New York. Also addressing graduates were Dean of Student Affairs Julie White, PhD; College of Nursing Dean Tammy Austin-Ketch, PhD; College of Health Professions Dean Katherine Beissner, PT, PhD; College of Medicine Dean Lawrence Chin, MD; and College of Graduate Studies Dean Mark Schmitt, PhD. Student speakers included Heather Bedard, College of Nursing; Amber Walker, College of Health Professions; Yaa Takyiwaa and Jared Sweeney, MD, College of Medicine; and Adam Blanden, College of Graduate Studies.

Click here to view the virtual commencement ceremony. 


Commencement by the numbers

The College of Graduate Studies awarded 14 degrees (two master of science and 10 doctoral degrees and two combined MD/PHD degrees.

The College of Health Professions awarded 173 degrees (75 bachelor of science and bachelor of professional studies, 60 master of science and 38 doctorate of physical therapy). Programs in the college include cardiovascular perfusion, medical imaging, medical technology, medical biotechnology, respiratory care, physical therapy, physician assistant and radiation therapy.

The College of Medicine awarded 168 degrees (149 doctor of medicine and 16 master of public health, three certificates of advance study in public health and one MD/MPH). (This number includes the 65 medical students who graduated early.)

The College of Nursing awarded 129 degrees and certificates (28 bachelor of science, 94 master of science, three doctorate of nursing practice and four post-master certificates).


Caption: New York Health Commissioner Harold Zucker, MD, JD, (above) was the ceremony’s featured speaker.