Covid & Commencement: A Virtual F&ES Graduation Ceremony
Authored by Sundara Bhandaram (MEM Graduate, Class of 2020)
I can definitively say that when I arrived at FES in Fall 2018, I did not imagine that my graduation would take place on a virtual landscape courtesy of a YouTube live stream. However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has highlighted the vulnerabilities in the US health care system, the starkness of income inequality, and a lack of leadership, I feel incredibly fortunate to be healthy and safe. While this ending is bittersweet, I truly appreciate the thoughtfulness and compassion that I have seen from members of the FES community during the last two months. And so, while our virtual ceremony was not how I had imagined my graduation, I felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to celebrate the end of my time at FES virtually surrounded by such a strong and resilient community.
The Master of Ceremonies was Gordon T. Geballe, Associate Dean for Student International Engagement, Lecturer in Urban Ecology. He welcomed students, staff, faculty, friends, and family to the first ever virtual FES ceremony. The celebration began with a song from the FES Acapella group LoggerRythms who sang a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”, Charles Bradley’s “Changes”, Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeros “Home”, and Bill Withers “Lean on Me”.
Followed by a touching performance, Dean Indy Burke spoke with students about the importance of using our knowledge, hope, and passion to create a better world. She reminded students of the importance of humility, a continued thirst for knowledge, and how important it is to learn from our mistakes.
Following by Dean Burke were students who had won various accolades. The Strachan Donnelley Student Award is awarded to the master’s student whose combination of coursework, research and leadership best blends the humanities with ecology and evolutionary biology in order to develop relationships between humans and nature, promoting long-term health, social justice. This year’s winner was Austin Scheetz MESc, whose thesis focused on the market for cattle grazing permits in Kenya between white ranchers and indigenous cattle pastoralists.
Awarded each spring the Kroon Cup recognizes individuals who embody stewardship and implement projects that engage and inspire the larger F&ES community. This year the cup was awarded to Kaggie Orrick PhD Candidate for her work as a member of Student Affairs Committee and on the BIOMES initiative. During her speech, she reminded students to remember the need for continuous improvement and the inherent good in society. And to not forget to treat each other with respect and always remember the power and privilege we carry.
Plus, three Teaching Fellow prizes were given to Ethan Addicott PhD, Reid Lewis, MF, and Robert Little, MEM.
The award recipient speeches were followed by a surprise appearance from New Haven’s 51st Mayor Justin Elicker, ’10 FES/SOM. His speech felt like we had come full circle since he had spoken with students during the 2018 Orientation session. He congratulated us on our successful completion and thanked students for our continued passion for making a difference in the world. And finally, Gary Barrett ’96 MF, President of the Alumni Association welcomed students to the alumni community.
A heartfelt congratulations to all of my peers and I hope you were able to celebrate and enjoy this moment with your friends and loved ones.