With family and friends in attendance, Stony Brook University’s Class of 2021 — the second-largest in school history — celebrated the university’s 61st Commencement at 10 different ceremonies held from Wednesday, May 19 through Friday, May 21.
“In a year of physical distancing, our Class of 2021 learned different ways to collaborate and connect,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, who addressed each of 10 ceremonies in person. “You had to reorganize your home lives, prioritize health, maintain friendships, and adapt to new modes of learning. In the final year of your journey, you had to find community and connection during global upheaval. It was a daunting task. Yet, time and again, your class met this challenge with positivity, ingenuity and hope.”
One year after having commencement ceremonies held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stony Brook was able to host its graduation celebration safely, outdoors, with each graduate able to invite up to two guests.
Candidates enjoyed three days of remarkable weather for the 10 ceremonies; nine were held on the field at LaValle Stadium, the traditional setting for SBU graduation ceremonies. The School of Dental Medicine held its ceremony on the Staller Steps. All ceremonies were livestreamed as well.
“Class of 2021, your unparalleled experience has given you a wisdom that was unimaginable just 18 months ago,” said McInnis, delivering her first in-person commencement address since becoming Stony Brook University president in July 2020. “You are leaving Stony Brook with lived, first-hand knowledge of the human condition — in all its foibles, nuances and possibilities. I submit that this commencement has unrivaled symbolic value. The world is opening up, and you are joining leaders in a new world with new possibilities. It thrills me to see the Class of 2021 embark on its next steps.”
The university conferred more than 7,700 degrees, including the largest number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in a year. The Class of 2021 included an estimated 4,645 bachelor’s degrees, 2,260 master’s degrees, 600 doctoral and professional degrees and 275 certificates. Graduates hailed from 66 different countries and 36 states, ranging in age from 19-69.
United States Senator Charles Schumer, a traditional celebrant at Stony Brook commencement ceremonies, delivered his remarks on video.
“Everyone says, your senior year in college will be the most memorable, and for many of you, it probably has been,” Schumer said. “Right now, it may feel like the future is uncertain. But don’t let the harshness of this past year prevent you from seizing new opportunities. And we need your help and your courage to rebuild our country even stronger than it was before.”
Senior Kiara Arias, who graduated with a degree in political science as well as minors in journalism and media arts, delivered the student address. Arias, a highly engaged student leader, was the director of Diversity and Inclusion Affairs for Undergraduate Student Government as well as a resident assistant and a digital journalism teaching assistant.
“In March 2020, the COVID pandemic upended everything in our lives, and many people in our campus community experienced uncertainty, loss, and isolation,” said Arias, who also told the story of a blackout that occurred during her first week on campus. “But, as Seawolves always do, we again found light by working together, taking one step at a time, and never giving up. Through it all, we learned that whatever we’re confronted with, whether it’s a simple blackout or a world-wide pandemic, we’re unstoppable.”
Asna Jamal, President of the Undergraduate Student Government, presented the Senior Class Gift: more than $24,000 from the Student Giving Campaign, which will support the Stony Brook Fund for Excellence, General Scholarships, the Student Emergency Fund, Student Life, the Staller Center and other areas.
This year’s graduates joined more than 200,000 Stony Brook alumni across the globe, and one of the people who made it to the stage waited 50 years to do so.
Larry Emert graduated from Stony Brook in 1971 but was unable to walk in that ceremony because he was in Alabama completing his New York State Army National Guard basic training. Emert, who met his wife at Stony Brook, noted that he also missed his law school graduation and didn’t wear a cap and gown in junior high or high school because he was in the band, so he finally got a chance to walk up and get his degree in person.
The Renaissance School of Medicine graduated the largest class in its history at its 47th convocation, with 150 students receiving their degrees. The class included the first students from the three-year accelerated MD program, one of only three such programs in New York State, designed to bring MDs more quickly into practice, save students costs and increase the numbers of doctors.
Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, former dean and senior vice president of the Health Sciences, delivered the convocation address. Kaushansky completed more than 10 years as dean in February and will retire from Stony Brook Medicine at the end of June.
President McInnis sent the Class of 2021 onto the next leg of its journey confident that the graduates are well-equipped to make that world a better place.
“Your track record is singular—you’ve graduated under unmatched circumstances, showing grace, determination and resilience in the face of adversity,” she said. “Your talent and experience can make an indelible impact on this world. You have seen the unexpected and pernicious challenges that life and can deliver, and already, the Class of 2021 has met many of these challenges, and has never stopped learning.”