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Pulse - Fall 2020 A Festive Long-Distance Commencement

The Class of 2020 celebrated Commencement virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but one major aspect of their May 29 ceremonies remained the same as any other: community.

Parents Rob Walker and Jamie Walker joined their son John Walker, MS '’20, for graduation.

Parents Rob Walker and Jamie Walker joined their son John Walker, MS '’20, for graduation at the lake house where John had quarantined since leaving Philadelphia.

MD, MS and PhD graduates collaborated from home to help make the day memorable, participating by video in pre-recorded graduation festivities that are now archived online (

Students who would have been hooded by faculty and alumni instead shared videos in which they donned the regalia with help from their siblings, parents, significant others, children or other important people in their lives.

The graduates' loved ones typically fill the Kimmel Center with applause, but this year they expressed their support and pride through the ceremonies' online comment sections. College faculty and staff posted heartfelt congratulations as well.

It is customary for MD graduates to recite the Physician's Pledge, in which they promise to dedicate their lives to serve humanity and put the health and well-being of their patients first. This year, 255 MD program graduates recited from home the oath that will guide them through their upcoming residencies, and throughout their careers.

Class of 2020 - Virtual Commencement

The Class of 2020 also included 255 master's degree students and 18 PhD students who concluded their programs with the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Profession Studies. These students recited the Graduate Student Oath, vowing to represent their chosen professions honorably, pursue truth for the greater good, maintain scientific integrity, and commit to lifelong learning.

Monika Jost, PhD, director of the Division of Pre-medical and Pre-health Programs, congratulated the students, noting, "Graduate school is always tough, and these past few months have been particularly taxing. But you rose to the occasion and you persevered. You should be especially proud of what you have achieved."

The Class of 2020 had an opportunity to learn from Commencement speaker Katherine High, MD, the president and head of research and development at Spark Therapeutics, who this year received the honorary degree Doctor of Science. High drew from her career pioneering cures for genetic diseases to share an important message with graduates.

Class of 2020 - Virtual Commencement

"Whatever you choose as your career path, make sure it's something that you feel is really worth doing," High said. "If you believe in the value of what you're doing, if you know that it's a worthwhile use of your talents and your energy, you'll have the fortitude and the long view that you need to help overcome obstacles along the way."

The student body elected Ria Harshal Mulherkar, MD, to address the graduates. She shared reflections on their time together: "We all came in with different dreams, different histories, but no matter what it was that brought us here, our journeys united once we walked through the front doors of Drexel Medicine."

Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean and Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Charles B. Cairns, MD, also addressed the graduates during the ceremonies. "You have been extraordinary in rapidly expanding your knowledge base, acquiring new skills and gaining the experience necessary to become successful scientists and physicians. You have also proven to be an especially resilient and resourceful group, given the unprecedented challenges you have faced," Cairns said. "We are so proud of the role that you will play and all that you will bring [to the world]."

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Pulse is published four times a year for students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the College, highlighting innovations in research, clinical practice and education; key events; and accomplishments. News, professional and academic achievements, calendar items and story ideas may be submitted by email to