Beyond the Fence title

A virtual farewell

On May 22 and 23, the Mellon College of Science hosted four departmental ceremonies to celebrate this year’s graduating students.

Glen de Vries Dean Rebecca Doerge spoke to students at each ceremony. “None of us expected to be in the situations we are in today. But let me tell you, that is life. And we have prepared you for this,” she said. “Our philosophy is to prepare our students for whatever the future brings. You have the skills you need to adapt to unexpected and changing situations. You have the ability to ask and answer meaningful questions. You are ready to change the world.”

The ceremonies turned out to be as much about the uniqueness of the graduates as the uniqueness of the situation, with each department bringing its own flair to the celebrations.


“Chemistry serves the greater good,” said Department Head Linda Peteanu in opening the chemistry departmental celebration.

Now more than ever, Peteanu points to the importance of chemistry in solving the world’s problems, something she hopes has been successfully instilled in this year’s graduates.

The department recognized 26 undergraduates, seven master’s and 10 doctoral graduates. One of the day’s student speakers, Alexis Hoane, echoed Peteanu’s sentiments. She admires her fellow young chemists and knows that they have a lot of ideas to bring to the world.

“I know that our education here has taught us to take the drive that comes with strong opinions and turn it into impact. I wish you all success in realizing this impact,” Hoane said in signing off to her classmates.

The department also shared a slideshow of peer-nominated superlatives. Superlatives voted students most likely to save the world from climate change, discover a new element, be one of the first chemists on Mars and start a fashion line of lab coats, to name a few.

Wrapping up, the day’s ceremony ended with a compilation video featuring several faculty members sharing their memories and saying their goodbyes to their students.

Mathematical Sciences

The Mathematical Sciences Department conferred degrees to 83 undergraduates, five of whom also earned master’s of science degrees, and eight doctoral graduates.

During the ceremony, Po-Shen Loh, one of the faculty speakers chosen by the graduating class, had a request for graduates: “there are some huge problems in the world right now. Don’t feel powerless,” he said.

“The past few months have shown us that the value of mathematics is that it has taught us how to think and that is the heart of how to adapt to any situation.

“I think that you are some of the most uniquely positioned people in the world today because you are going out into the world as its changing and you also have the skillset to try to figure out what to do next,” Loh said.

This year’s graduates are already headed out into the world ready to make an impact. Many students will join top Ph.D. programs and post-doctoral positions. Others are poised to begin industry careers in retail, tech and financial companies such as Wayfair, Google, Nike, Barclays, Microsoft, Citadel, Capital One and Credit Suisse.

Ceremonies Bio

Biological Sciences

“You should really feel so proud of getting to this moment,” said Department Head Veronica Hinman, Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences, in recognizing the department’s 2020 graduating students. “I think if your time here teaches you anything, it’s that you really can adapt to a changing world.”

In a virtual ceremony, the Department of Biological Sciences honored its 58 undergraduate, 35 master’s, and six doctoral students receiving degrees.

Teaching Professor Carrie Doonan was voted by the students to give the keynote address of the ceremony, during which she expressed her desire to give each and every student a brownie and cake with sprinkles on it. “We all know that sprinkles make everything better!”

Doonan shared stories from biological sciences alumni on the skills they acquired at Carnegie Mellon University that helped prepare them for their careers and lives. “You have these anchors,” Doonan said. “Embrace your journey.”

After the ceremony ended, the graduating students and their families had the opportunity to play a game in which they tried to match different faculty members with their baby photos.


“We are living in an unusual time — a perilous time, one of unprecedented change,” said Department Head Scott Dodelson to open the departmental celebration for graduating physics students. “However, we, the faculty, have every confidence that you will emerge from this time stronger than ever.”

Dodelson went on to point out how the life of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking changed forever when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the same age as the department’s graduating undergraduates. “[Hawking] ended up saying ‘Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,’ and no one can dispute that you, our graduating physics majors, are intelligent,” Dodelson said.

The Department of Physics recognized 47 undergraduates, 19 master’s and 13 doctoral graduates during its virtual ceremony, which included a slideshow of photos submitted by graduating students to highlight some of their favorite memories from their time at Carnegie Mellon.

Members of the physics faculty took turns to share dedications and memories of different graduating students, which ranged from heartfelt to humorous and even included a mention of a student’s beloved Pikachu onesie.

At the request of the students, Buhl Professor of Theoretical Physics Fred Gilman was tapped to give the closing remarks for the ceremony. He highlighted the importance of the qualities hope and persistence by sharing the story of Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health who spearheaded efforts to find a cure for cystic fibrosis for more than 30 years. In 2019, a treatment for the genetic disorder was unveiled.

Finally, graduating senior Alexa Lansberry wrapped things up by reminding her classmates of the bonds they formed with each other.

“We were all there for each other when we needed it, and I have met some of the best people I’ve ever known in this department,” Lansberry said. “I hope that one of you ends up winning a Nobel Prize so I can brag about graduating with you.”

■ Ben Panko & Emily Payne