PLYMOUTH — For the first time since 1968, Plymouth State University celebrated its undergraduate commencement ceremony on the lawn in front of iconic Mary Lyon Hall. The 150th Anniversary Commencement on Saturday celebrated the university's classes of 2020 and 2021, honoring graduates who will be forever distinguished by their fortitude and dedication. Graduate and doctorate degrees for the classes of 2020 and 2021 were awarded in a separate ceremony on Friday evening in the same location.

The graduating classes were joined by members of the PSU faculty and staff, and guests. Due to ongoing concerns around the pandemic, the ceremonies were live-streamed for graduates’ family and friends.

PSU alum Todd Angilly, an opera singer and the official anthem singer of the Boston Bruins, performed the National Anthem to open the ceremony. Angilly received his PSU bachelor of arts degree in music and was a member of the University’s Chamber Singers and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. A classically trained tenor who studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston, he is also a cantor at St. Mary Church in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The 150th Anniversary ceremony celebrated the PSU community’s resilience, strength and commitment in the face of the extraordinary circumstances of the past 14 months.

“We are here today because you rolled with the punches and did what many said could not be done," university President Donald Birx told the graduates. "Your degrees and today’s ceremony are even more meaningful because of your sacrifices.”

He commented on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the college experience for students — restrictions on traveling, eating out and getting together with friends; abrupt shifts to remote learning; weekly COVID-19 testing, quarantines and isolation; and financial and health scares, among other things.

For the class of 2020, COVID-19 meant an abrupt end to their final college semester and no commencement ceremony.

“The experiences you have had will make for stories for your kids, grandkids and great grandkids, but more than that, you can go forward knowing that you have the resilience to face whatever comes your way,” Birx said. “Together we have learned about the power of perseverance, which is key to achieving whatever you set your minds to.”

Deborah L. Birx, MD, former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator and younger sister of the PSU president, was presented with an honorary doctorate in public service for her service to the country during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also delivered the keynote address.

Dr. Birx applauded the graduates for their resilience, flexibility and tenacity in managing the various challenges thrown at them by the pandemic.

“Today I want to talk about resilience. What does that really mean? It’s about adapting to the new reality of Zoom classes, the ability to be flexible, the ability to recognize in each of us that we have different strengths and weaknesses, and we’re stronger as a team,” she said. “You are so unique because of what you’ve experienced.”

Dr. Birx is a world-renowned medical expert in clinical and basic immunology, infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research and global health. She served first as an Army colonel, and later, ran some of the most influential programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S Department of State. In 2014, she became ambassador-at-large when she assumed the role of coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and as U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. Most recently, Dr. Birx served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, making recommendations to top officials based on complex data integration.

The PSU Class of 2021 graduates hail from 23 states, including the six New England states, California, Colorado, Hawaii and Minnesota, among others. The class also included graduates from 14 other countries. More than 700 members of the Class of 2021 received their diplomas.

Madelyn McCluskey, vice president of the Class of 2021, spoke to the graduates and said: “The end of our academic experience here at Plymouth State has not been simple, it was not easy. Nevertheless, this past year we have all proven to ourselves, and one another, just how resilient the PSU community can be when times get difficult. We Panthers have a special ability to make the best out of every situation.”

Former University System of New Hampshire Trustee and New Hampshire business leader Pamela Diamantis addressed master's and doctoral degree recipients of the classes of 2020 and 2021 at the Friday ceremony.

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