From the Struggle to the Summit
Families, friends, mentors celebrate UD doctoral graduates who prevailed during pandemic
Achieving a doctorate in any discipline requires the most rigorous scholarship and the steepest of academic climbs. And that’s in the best of times.
To reach that goal during a global pandemic, with the grief, loss and struggle we all understand in much more vivid ways now, is something akin to winning Olympic gold. These degrees demanded uncommon determination, resourcefulness and resilience.
Several hundred such scholars were honored Thursday afternoon as the University of Delaware held its 2021 Doctoral Hooding Convocation. The ceremony included those who would have been part of the 2020 program if it had not been canceled by the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. And unlike recent convocations, it was held at Delaware Stadium, which allowed for the physical distance that has been one of the hallmarks of the pandemic safety protocols. And this time, the candidates and their mentors all wore face coverings, respecting the University’s safety protocols.
Almost 600 doctoral degrees were awarded by UD from the summer of 2019 through this spring, according to the University’s Graduate College office. The 2020 class included 295, the 2021 class included 286. Fifty-three more are expected to graduate in August and will be included in the next academic year’s total (2021-22).
Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College, said the graduates represented 30 nations, from Albania to Uganda. The youngest was 28 years old, the “most experienced” was 59, he said. They have addressed critical issues from how to address climate change, effective ways to help children learn, studying the genetic causes of blindness and developing better cybersecurity methods.
The event included recognition of the challenges of the past year, the rigors of these academic pursuits and the joy of finally being able to celebrate together with family, friends, colleagues and mentors.
“Reaching this moment has required an incredible level of perseverance and dedication to your academic and research commitments, and you did it while the world around you was changing moment by moment,” said UD President Dennis Assanis. “It was your indomitable spirit and your drive to succeed that helped you overcome tremendous obstacles.”
Provost Robin Morgan noted that completing a doctoral degree requires many of the tools required to endure a global pandemic — flexibility, seeking wisdom from those with expertise in other fields, the search for answers, the need for patience and persistence, grit, determination and the strength to move forward despite seemingly insurmountable problems.
“Given what we’ve endured as a University, a country, and a global community over the past 15 months, this celebration today has even greater meaning,” Morgan said.
Student comments were read by Mary Martin, associate dean of the Graduate College, and reflected many students’ humor, love of caffeine and passion for the work they were doing. A sampling:
- Aviva Heyn, assistant director of digital learning in UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, earned her doctorate in educational leadership. She studied ways to improve online learning. “This topic proved to be very timely in 2020 and 2021,” she said.
- Kimberly Wagner, who earned her doctorate in educational leadership, recalled that defense of her ELP (Education Leadership Portfolio) on a Zoom session was interrupted when a vicious storm arose and ripped the siding off her house.
- Rui Wang, who earned his doctorate in educational statistics and research methods, said he has learned much from his children, including “Always ask why until you understand everything.”
Article by Beth Miller. Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Evan Krape and Ashley Barnas.