In a virtual celebration of its Class of 2020, with students distanced to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Public Health honored 790 undergraduate and 386 graduate students for their accomplishments in receiving new degrees.

"Instead of gathering in the Liacouras Center surrounded by about 7,000 people, we're scattered around the country and the world watching this together," said Dean Laura A. Siminoff in her opening remarks.

In the online video event, Siminoff and other speakers congratulated graduates and stressed the dramatically heightened value of public health education amid the pandemic. Students' names were called individually in a virtual procession. Faculty members added video messages to applaud students. Thousands of graduates, family members, friends, and teachers watched from their homes on May 22 and the days that followed.

"We are heading into the unknown together," said Siminoff. "Many of you will immediately take your place in the healthcare workforce. Some of you already have. Whatever you do, I know that you will harness your talent, energy and dedication to make our society a much better place."

Keynote speaker Judy Faulkner, CEO and founder of healthcare technology pioneer Epic Systems, encouraged graduates to be "accidental tourists on the river of life," following their passions as they put their public health education to work.

"This commencement marks the time for wings, to take off and fly your best," she said. "It might feel like a strange time to celebrate….Yet it's also a time of hope, as we all come together to face this challenge. As public health emergencies continue, your role will be increasingly important.  You are joining the fight to keep people well, to protect the health of our world and to save lives."

Veronica Hill-Milbourne, chair of the College of Public Health Board of Visitors, emphasized the vital roles graduates will play as public health professionals.

"It's important for you to understand that as healthcare providers, we don't run from the fire, we run towards the fire," she said. 

Student speaker Hannah McKinney, who received her bachelor of science in public health, watched with her family from Bucks County and relatives around the country.  

"Regardless of the uncertainty that lies in each and every one of our paths, our resiliency and ability to continue to march forward is astounding," she said in her speech to classmates.  "As students in the College of Public Health, we experienced firsthand a global pandemic develop. We were able to witness not only how healthcare professionals handled the situation but how the general population responded. From a public health perspective, this is not only fascinating but instructive."

McKinney noted that a social media post she had recently seen about the coronavirus seemed to encapsulate the essential message of the class's public health education. She explained: "Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst cared-for a person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling."

"As public health professionals, how do we go about raising this floor?," said McKinney.  "This college has set us up to address this question, and so much more. We have the ability to create a healthier, stronger, more educated society.  We truly are the future of public health."

Watch the Celebration

The celebration of the Class of 2020 can be viewed at the links below:

Communication Sciences and Disorders | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating students in the Linguistics and Speech, Language and Hearing Science programs

Health and Rehabilitation Sciences | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating students in the Athletic Training, Health Professions, Neuromotor Science, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Recreational Therapy programs

Kinesiology | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating students in Exercise & Sport Science and Kinesiology programs

Nursing | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs

Public Health | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating public health students in Biostatistics, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Health Informatics, Health Information Management, Health Policy and Social and Behavioral Sciences programs

Social Work | Click here to watch
Celebrating our graduating students in the Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work programs