President David Munson's 2020 virtual celebration remarks

Good evening, or good afternoon, depending on your viewing location!

Thank you for joining us today! I’m David Munson, president of RIT. Welcome to this celebration of the Class of 2020!

I am sure that when you first started classes at RIT and pictured commencement—the day you would celebrate all of your hard work and academic achievements—you didn’t envision yourself peering at a cell phone or computer screen, without your classmates, professors, and extended family nearby.

This certainly is not how I, nor anyone at RIT, pictured celebrating you and acknowledging your success. This pandemic has changed the lives of everyone, and nobody knows that more than this graduating class. Commencement is perhaps the most cherished occasion in the life of our university, and I wish our celebration could be held face-to-face, with lots of handshakes and hugs.

Later, I’ll address our plans for an in-person ceremony when we feel comfortable from a health and safety standpoint. Right now, I want to focus on what hasn’t changed. I want to talk about your accomplishments and a little bit about the future.

What hasn’t changed is RIT’s uniqueness and how innovation is baked into everything we do. RIT prides itself in preparing our graduates not only for jobs and careers, but also for life and all of its challenges. Today’s world needs people who know how to create and innovate, analyze and implement, collaborate and lead. We need people who will use their resiliency, ingenuity, education, and skills to make the world a better place.

You, the Class of 2020, are those people. The way I see it, disruption births opportunity. How do I know? I only need to look at the last eight weeks to see evidence of your greatness.

For instance, there’s graduating Biomedical Sciences major Bryon Campbell, who has been volunteering more than 35 hours a week with a nearby town ambulance crew. He has been on the frontline during this pandemic, all while finishing his degree.

In early April, our nationally-ranked lacrosse team raised over $5,000 for the Headstrong Foundation in a 5K challenge, finishing in second-place nationally. These players focused their efforts on helping people instead of dwelling on the loss of their sports season.

RIT’s annual Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society, moved to a virtual format under the leadership of Daniel Rouleau, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and raised more than $64,000 in April.  

Biomedical Engineering students Will Byron and Sean Bellefeuille began creating face shields for a Long Island company—in one of the areas in New York State hit hardest by the virus. Sean is part of this graduating class and is headed to vet school at Cornell University this fall.

We have approximately 4,300 students earning diplomas globally, including nearly 50 Ph.D. students. You are joining a network of 135,000 alumni throughout the world, working at the top of their fields and giving back to their communities. Not surprisingly, our alumni have stepped it up during this pandemic as well.

Dr. Christopher Tanski, a 2000 graduate who majored in Information Technology, was asked to oversee the medical professionals treating Coronavirus patients at the Javits Convention Center field hospital in New York City and on the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort. He has coordinated efforts on the frontlines of the U.S. city most affected by the pandemic.

Callie Donahue, a graduate in Biotechnology and Molecular Bioscience, is part of a lab that is testing drugs on human cells infected with COVID-19 to find medicine that can be used as a treatment. Callie was part of my first graduating class in 2018. She is now a Ph.D. student at Boston University.

Mechanical Engineering technology alumnus Corey Mack is building emergency ventilators. Former Student Government president Nick Giordano has created a website template that helps communities track and manage the spread of the virus. Biomedical Engineering alumna Maria Romero-Creel was part of a team at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics that developed a COVID-19 antibody test.

RIT Trustee and alumnus Ron Ricotta had his injection molding company, Century Mold, retool to produce 50,000 face shields for medical workers. 

The list goes on and on because goodness is part of our DNA. So is rising to the challenge and never giving up.

You are joining fellow graduates from our international campuses in Dubai, Croatia, Kosovo, and China, who also have had their lives altered by the Coronavirus.

As RIT’s campus in Croatia transitioned to online delivery methods, Croatia’s capital of Zagreb was hit hard by a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. The quake, the largest in the area in 140 years, mostly damaged buildings in the older, historic areas. Thankfully our students, faculty, and staff were safe and the Zagreb campus was not damaged.

You, the Class of 2020, will always be the class that not only survived the rigorous coursework, research, and co-op program at RIT, but you completed your education during a pandemic. You are the class that already has answered the call to make the world a better place.

We hope you celebrate all the challenges you have overcome, the goals you have reached, and the lifelong friendships you have made. Everyone at RIT is so proud of you. Today, we want you to focus on good memories and to reflect on all you have accomplished. Congratulations!

I now would like to turn it over to Dr. Ellen Granberg, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.


Before we conclude this celebration, I want to spend a few moments talking about what is next.

We know you want an on-campus commencement. We do too! This virtual celebration does not take the place of that.

Our plan is to replicate our normal ceremonies as much as possible when it is safe to do so. We are looking at options that include late August and Labor Day Weekend, plus other dates that are further out. We will notify you as soon as the medical situation has improved and we have selected a date.

In addition, 2020 graduates will have the opportunity to walk in the 2021 commencement ceremonies if you wish. Of course, your families and friends are welcome to attend.

And now let’s do something that has never been done before virtually at RIT: The official conferral of degrees and a class toast.

By the authority vested in me by the Board of Regents of the State of New York and the Board of Trustees of Rochester Institute of Technology, I now confer upon you the degree to which you are entitled, as certified by the faculty, with all of the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Congratulations!

Whatever you choose to be and wherever you go, be proud of your roots. Be proud of who you are and remember that you are an RIT Tiger and always welcome at your university home. Here’s to you, Class of 2020. Cheers!