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Celebrating the Class of 2020 Around the World

Fletcher hosts its first virtual commencement ceremony.

In a true demonstration of our international community and unwavering school spirit, The Fletcher School logged in to its first ever virtual commencement ceremony on Sunday. Graduating students, proud family members, faculty, staff, alumni and university leadership joined the event from around the world to celebrate the achievements of the Fletcher Class of 2020 and close out a memorable semester amidst a global pandemic. 

"It’s not Fletcher Field and it’s not a tent; it’s not the tennis courts with a bullhorn in the rain, but we are here together, apart,” Fletcher Dean Rachel Kyte told the amassed virtual crowd via a television production studio in West Newton, Massachusetts. "Despite the trials & tribulations of the second half of this semester, and the turmoil rendered by the #pandemic all around us, this is a joyous moment for our graduating students and their families and friends who have supported them through the whole process," she said.

Dean Kyte's welcome message was followed by a greeting from Fletcher Chair of the Board Lisbeth J. Tarlow (F84, F97). "Your particular values have been bolstered now by an extraordinary Fletcher education," Tarlow said. "One that is so highly regarded around the world for its uniquely effective approach to complex problem solving."

With their remarks, elected student "Toastmasters" Ella Duncan, Raymond Marolt, Carla Martinez, and Manaved Nambiar provided a lighter take on the ceremony, with their short toasts which would typically be given in Blakeley Courtyard, among just the graduating students. Ending on an encouraging note, Nambiar reminded his fellow classmates that "while the crisis that awaits us outside of the proverbial Fletcher bubble has not made things any easier, the last few months have made on thing very clear: We are ready and prepared" before appearing with the other toastmasters together on a split screen, Zoom style, to quaff their drinks. Martinez said, “May we find happiness, love, and a job. Cheers!” 

Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Policy Josephine Wolff received the James L. Paddock Teaching Award - an honor that is bestowed by Fletcher students - and an opportunity to address the graduates. In her speech, Wolff marveled at the internet rules that allowed her pre-recorded video to travel as packets of information through undersea cables, satellites, and cellular towers and be reassembled to stream into her viewers’ devices.

“It reminds me how fast the world can change, and what an enormous impact a small set of well-crafted rules can have,” said Wolff, the recipient of the James L. Paddock Teaching Award. “It makes me excited at the prospect of all the things you will go on to do, all the new rules you will write that will no doubt seem as utterly incomprehensible to me, as much like magic, as the internet seemed to my grandmother.”

This year’s graduates may not yet know how they will make an impact, “and that’s OK,” Wolff said. Echoing her father’s advice when she was struggling to choose a dissertation topic, she added, “If you could plan it all out in advance, then it wouldn’t be worth doing.”

The Fletcher ceremony also included remarks by elected student speakers Nicholas Cicchinelli and Olivia Maigret, both of whom acknowledged how strange it was to celebrate with their classmates virtually. Cicchinelli said he felt like he was giving “a Fletcher Commencement edition of the Queen’s Christmas address, sporting a homemade haircut and using my bedroom as a recording studio,” while Maigret told viewers, “I hope you enjoy my carefully staged bookshelf as much as I enjoyed putting it together.”

As with every Fletcher Commencement this ceremony also featured the presentation of awards, including the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Outstanding First-Year Student, which went to Sabrina Andrews and Abigail Kukura. The recipients of the Edmund A. Gullion Prize for Outstanding Second-Year Student were Melanie Barlow and Aesclinn Donohue, and the Leo Gross Prize for Outstanding Student of International Law was awarded to Thomas Eaton. Roxani Krystalli and Sarah Detzner both received the Peter Ackerman Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation.

The Administrator of the Year Award was shared by Brad Macomber and Cyndi Rubin of Ginn Library, “for extraordinary, above and beyond effort in assisting the School’s faculty to convert all coursework, mid-semester, to online delivery.”

This year marked the transition to faculty emeritus status of two professors: Andrew Hess, professor of diplomacy and director of the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program, and Hurst Hannum, professor of international law.

The ceremony was punctuated by an address from honored guest speaker, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Amina J. Mohammed. “What matters today is honoring your hard work and accomplishments and marking an important milestone in your lives," she said. "We all belong to each other in this world. Don’t be afraid to use your voice, your heart, your head, to make a difference. You’re all in a privileged position as graduates of Fletcher… Now, I hope you can make it count.”

While no one in the class of 2020 likely would have chosen a virtual commencement over the opportunity to celebrate their achievements with friends and family in cap and gown and in person, the virtual commencement experience was filled with messages of hope, resilience, community, and preparedness. “Although this is not how we imagined the end of our Fletcher career," said student toastmaster Raymond Marolt, "the Fletcher community is strong, resilient, and truly global. Here’s to Fletcher, here’s to the Fletcher staff, and here’s to my fellow Fletcher students.”

Watch the full recording of Fletcher's 2020 Commencement ceremony above or here

To watch remarks by Tufts University President Tony Monaco for the University's 164th Conferral Ceremony click here and to read the full Tufts Now article about the ceremony, click here.

To view the submitted videos of well-wishes for Fletcher student by members of the staff, faculty, family, friends, and alumni click here.

Click here to learn more about The Fletcher School.