On May 28, more than 2,000 alumni from the Class of 2020 returned to the Hilltop to celebrate their Commencement — an event two years in the making after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their in-person graduation.
Over a three-day celebration, the Class of 2020 gathered for undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies on Healy Lawn, receptions and a baccalaureate Mass.
“We waited a while for this one didn’t we!” Provost Robert M. Groves said during the opening ceremony for undergraduate commencement on Saturday morning. “No one two years ago could have imagined the toll COVID-19 would exact on you as individuals and on our university. But you and we and this institution we love, have withstood the test of time…Welcome home, we missed you.”
In May 2020, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgetown conferred degrees to graduates in a virtual ceremony. More than 900 friends, family, professors and supporters shared their virtual congratulations. President John J. DeGioia shared that he looked “forward to the moment in the future when we can all gather together here on campus.”
Four semesters later, commencement speakers, alumni, parents and Georgetown faculty and staff marked the moment of closure and the achievements and resilience of the Class of 2020 throughout the weekend.
“To the class of 2020, welcome home,” DeGioia said during undergraduate commencement. “Your class had an experience unlike any other, facing immense uncertainty and challenge. This moment has required the very best in each one of us, the very best in all of us, and your class will be remembered for the responsibility that you accepted for one another and for all those around you…It is a privilege to welcome you back to the Hilltop and to have this opportunity to say: To the members of the Georgetown University Class of 2020, congratulations on your Commencement.”
More than 1,200 alumni from the Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), McDonough School of Business (MSB), Georgetown College, School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) and the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) processed into the undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 28.
Rashad Robinson, the president of the racial justice organization, Color of Change, spoke at the Class of 2020’s undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 28.
The ceremony’s commencement speaker, Rashad Robinson, the president of the racial justice organization, Color of Change, emphasized the historic moment in which the Class of 2020 graduated: during a pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others. He urged the alumni to reflect on their values and ideas then, how they may have changed and how the Class of 2020 will define themselves going forward.
“You graduated in the middle of history and your choices, your definitions will determine what comes next,” Robinson said. “You can help us find a way to a better future if you first take the brave step of finding and defining yourself. I cannot wait to see what you will define and what you will make possible that was not possible before. We need you more than ever. Let’s get out there together to create more justice, more freedom and more hope for all of us.”
Sara Rotenberg (NHS’20), a Rhodes Scholar, spoke at the Class of 2020’s undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 28.
The undergraduate class, which, in total includes students from 49 states and 68 nations, featured two alumni as its student speakers: John Rindone (SFS’20), a Schwarzman Scholar who now works as a credit analyst and an advisor to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Sara Rotenberg (NHS’20), a Rhodes Scholar who is working to improve health outcomes for people with disabilities at Oxford University.
“Each of us here today…have experienced one of the greatest disruptions in the past century and come through it,” Rotenberg said in her speech. “And while the present is unstable and the future unpredictable, we are certainly prepared for it. So, Class of 2020, congratulations on making it to our belated graduation. Let’s hope the worst is behind us, but for whatever lies ahead, we are ready.”
Navigating the Post-Graduation Transition
Alia Kawar (C’20) flew in from Amman, Jordan, with her parents to celebrate the Class of 2020 Commencement ceremony.
Alia Kawar (C’20) flew in from Amman, Jordan, with her parents to celebrate the ceremony. She wanted to see her friends, and she wanted the moment of closure.
“I finally got proper closure,” she says. “We knew it was going to be a worthwhile experience, and I’m so glad to see that most of the class came back. I think it’s given us a stronger class and stronger friendships, going through those times together.”
Following her graduation in 2020, Kawar’s career plans pivoted. The psychology major had planned to pursue marketing, but instead got a job in the art world — a passion she had explored at Georgetown as an art minor who often shared Middle Eastern and Jordanian artists with her friends to help explain her culture and background.
“I was able to find a path that I wouldn’t have necessarily found without all the down time in the pandemic,” she said. “I think Georgetown prepared me to take on challenges and to embrace spontaneity and have confidence in myself that this Georgetown experience prepared me for anything to come.”
“I think it’s given us a stronger class and stronger friendships, going through those times together.”
Alia Kawar (C’20)
Graduate and Professional Commencement
Nearly 1,000 alumni from SFS, MSB, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Biomedical Graduate Education, the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown Law, the School of Medicine and SCS processed into the graduate and professional commencement on Saturday afternoon, May 28.
Dr. Mark Dybul (C’85, M’92, H’08), senior advisor for the Center for Global Health Practice and Impact at Georgetown and a professor in the department of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, spoke at the graduate and professional commencement ceremony on May 28.
Dr. Mark Dybul (C’85, M’92, H’08), senior advisor for the Center for Global Health Practice and Impact at Georgetown and a professor in the department of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, emphasized the major changes and upheaval the Class of 2020 has lived through. He encouraged graduates to counter uncertainty, fear and hate with hope and action.
“All of us can try to ensure that in every thought we have and every action we take, in every present moment, we are looking beyond ourselves, beyond our own professions, own our community, our own country, so that the collective ripples of each action become waves washing to every shore,” he said. “We can ask in everything we do, are we contributing to a better world, a more just world, or are we drawing more hope out of it? We can choose hope over fear and love over hate.”
A Platoon Sergeant’s Journey to the Stage
Alexandre Sayada (M’SFS), who graduated with his master’s in security studies from SFS, was eager to finally walk across the stage at commencement.
For Sayada, a platoon sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, the moment was a long time coming.
“I applied three times to get into the school, and I wanted that feeling of being able to walk across the stage and look in the mirror and tell myself I did it,” he said. “I never was good at school, but it was one of those things where you finally climb your own personal mountain, and I wanted to stay on top of the mountain and say, alright, this is it.”
Sayada said his SFS education has helped him break down complex concepts into simpler terms for different audiences, which has been helpful in the Marine Corps. He also said he enjoyed the community he found at Georgetown – and that this graduation mattered for his own.
“It does mean something,” he said. “Not just for us but for all our families that wanted to come and celebrate our achievement. It matters.”
Meet the Class of 2020
Meet the Class of 2020
“I feel charged again. I’m just extremely happy that I went to a university like Georgetown where they gave us a lot of agency to do things already. You don’t realize how much it impacts. And I think I changed a little bit. I realized that you can’t change the past. You can only keep moving forward.”
Kosi Ndukwe (C’20), a marketing analyst at a cryptocurrency investment management firm in New York, who switched career paths from film to finance after graduation.
“In this program, I got married, I had my first child and my second child, so this is a really special program for me. My two boys went with me on the stage, and we all got my degree. This is my third masters, but this is so special because of my kids.
I felt like all the scary moments, the am-I-going-to-make-it, all the obstacles, the challenges, it just melted, and I’m enjoying the moment with my boys.
And now they know how it feels, and this is going to be part of their memory.”
Fatiha Belfakir (SCS’20), who spent four years pursuing her master’s in journalism in the School of Continuing Studies while working as an international broadcast analyst on the Extremism Watch Desk for Voice of America. She is now a freelancer for the Baltimore Times.
“Most people thus express regret upon learning that we graduated in 2020. And yes, those spring months and these past two years have changed us forever…But as the class of 2020, we are blessed and we are proud to say that Georgetown changed us first. We were ready with our values, standing tall.”
John Rindone (SFS’20) , during his speech at undergraduate commencement
“I wanted a full moment of closure that I didn’t get in March of 2020. It felt like one minute we were in school and then everything stopped.
I’m glad that I got that moment. It feels like an end to my Georgetown journey.”
Layla Abdi (NHS’20), who carried the flag for the School of Nursing & Health Studies during the undergraduate procession and plans to apply to medical school soon.
“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was in sixth grade. I’ve been able to follow that dream all the way here to Georgetown, which was my dream school. My family came all the way from California, and they wanted to see me walk across this stage. They’ve seen me do it two other times, but this was the one I’ve been working for my whole life. And I want to celebrate this with the school that helped me get there.”
Alex Keyser (L’20), who, after graduation, gave up his planned job at a law firm to work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as an attorney advisor to help during the pandemic.
“I graduated with a master’s in biohazardous threat agents and emerging infectious diseases. I graduated in the midst of COVID-19. It was an insane coincidence.
Now I work as a systems engineer geared toward countering biological weapons. I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing without this degree.
It’s kind of surreal to be back here. To be around so many people, it just is a testament to the good work of vaccines and the public health people of the country that we can be here today.”
Anna Pulley (G’20), who graduated from Biomedical Graduate Education
“If the last two years have taught me anything, it’s that change is inevitable, so you just have to welcome it and be ready for whatever it is.”
Andres Marquez (SFS’20), who is working at a law firm in New York City while attending Harvard Law School. He was joined by his parents, brothers and both sets of grandparents.
“I felt a little bit disappointed when I graduated that I was not able to have a formal commencement ceremony. I sacrificed my life for two years, working full-time and having a demanding job and doing this. There were lots and lots of sleepless nights. When I graduated, lockdown was surreal.
So this is nice. I’ve known Georgetown since I was a little kid, and I just feel very proud of myself to walk across the stage in front of this historic building and to be part of this community. I feel so proud and blessed.”
Amy Komins (MSB’20), who, since graduating with a master of science in finance, has gotten a new job as senior director of finance at Zero Gravity Corporation and become an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.
My family is very into higher education and going as far as you can and pursuing your dream, so being able to celebrate all those milestones was a big, big deal for me and for my family. I had to make sure I was here. It just means a lot to me.
Morgan Robinson (G’20), who studied history in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and will be pursuing her Ph.D. in African American studies. She flew in from Atlanta, Georgia, and was joined by four of her family members.
The Class of 2020, By the Numbers
The Class of 2020 won many competitive fellowships during their years at Georgetown, including:
25 Fulbright Scholars
1 Beinecke Scholarship
1 Carnegie Jr. Fellow
1 Luce Fellowship
1 Marshall Scholarship
2 Pickering Fellowships
1 Rangel Fellowship
1 Rhodes Recipient and 1 Rhodes Finalist
2 Schwarzman Scholars
1 St. Andrew’s Society of New York Scholarship
2 Truman Fellows
2 Udall Scholars
2 Yenching Academy Scholarships
Many of the 7,116 graduates also continued their studies at Georgetown, including: