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Nearly 4,000 students receive their degrees—in online style

May 15, 2020
triplets in commencement regalia pose and hold mortarboards outside their home.The Kearns triplets, from left, Annemarie (political science and business), Nolan (microbiology), and Max (chemical engineering), are all members of the University of Rochester Class of 2020, celebrating the conferral of their degrees through online and at-home ceremonies.
Members of the Class of 2020 marked a traditional milestone in unusual times, with an online conferral of degrees and at-home celebrations with remote family and friends.

On the day the Kearns triplets graduated from the University of Rochester—300 miles from campus—they found silver linings.

“The three of us lived in different residence halls and apartments, were involved in different clubs, and had different majors,” Annemarie Kearns says. “Moving back home [to Scotch Plains, New Jersey] allowed us to spend more time together. It’s been nice.”

Annemarie was a double major in political science and business, Nolan majored in microbiology, and Max majored in chemical engineering. Friday, they watched the University’s online conferral of degrees for the Class of 2020 with their parents.

“Because our department ceremonies overlapped, the recorded ceremonies turned out to be the only way our parents could see all three of them,” AnneMarie says. “To celebrate, we decorated our back yard, will have a barbecue, FaceTime relatives and friends and, of course, eat some cake.”

The University went to distance learning in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Friday it celebrated nearly 4,000 students with online conferrals of degrees in bachelors, master’s, and doctoral programs.

As senior class council president, Rachel Goodman ’20 had anticipated giving a commencement speech before hundreds of students, parents, and members of the University community on the Eastman Quadrangle. Three weeks ago, she put on a white dress and recorded her speech in the dining room of her parents’ home in Needham, Massachusetts.

NEEDHAM, MASSACHUSETTS Rachel Goodman ’20, double major in health, behavior and society and psychology, celebrates the degree conferrals from her parents’ home. Rachel has been the class council president all four years and was set to deliver a speech at commencement Sunday. She taped one instead a few weeks ago. From left, her brother Matthew, father Ken, and mom Elyse, with dog Pepper.


“Not doing it in person was certainly disappointing, but I am so grateful I could share some words with my class virtually,” says Goodman, who completed majors in health, behavior and society as well as psychology. “Recording at home had its advantages: I got to wear pajama pants and had unlimited attempts to tape it, which made for a pretty entertaining blooper reel.”

Goodman said she was nervous about “graduating from home,” but her family made it a special day. “My brother came home from New York to celebrate with us, and he and my parents decorated the house with balloons and banners,” she says. “They baked my favorite sweets, did a champagne toast, and cheered me on as we watched my virtual speech in our living room. There were a lot of tears, happy and sad. I’m so grateful we got to spend this day together.”

Jamal Holtz ’20 graduated with the self-designed social justice and public policy major and served as Students’ Association president in the 2019–20 academic year. Friday, he watched University president Sarah Mangelsdorf’s online address to all graduates and the conferral of degrees with family and friends. His mother, Yvonne Holtz, was working in Glasgow, Virginia, but joined the family via Zoom.

“It’s definitely not what I expected commencement to be,” Holtz says, “but nothing can take away what you worked for these four years. I was still emotional watching the conferral of degrees.”


Jamal Holtz, surround by friends and family including one relative on an iPad, with a large screen behind him showing his name and degree.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Jamal Holtz ’20, social justice and public policy major and 2019-20 Students’ Association president, celebrates from his brother’s home. His mom had to work in Virginia, so she watched the conferral with everyone via Zoom. From left to right: Thennie Freeman (godmother), Andrea Holtz (sister), Phillip Walker (mentor), Yvonne Holtz, mother (on Zoom), Lauryn Renford (girlfriend), Kemry Hughes (mentor), and Markus Batchelor (brother and mentor).


Holtz has begun a job as assistant to the president at LINK Strategic Partners, a communications and stakeholder engagement firm in Washington. He says his biggest takeaway from his Rochester years is “the opportunity to build community and family. That will be part of my life forever.”

Makana Medeiros ’20E graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a degree in percussion performance. He celebrated Friday by watching the conferral with his parents and younger brother at home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“The hardest part about leaving school was the recitals and concerts that were canceled,” he says. “All the time and energy preparing for these events was met with no performance. But I can still look back at all the concerts, rehearsals, master classes, lessons—and even the online Zoom meetings—to prove how much the Eastman community supported and cared about me.”


three prictures show a family watching the degree conferrals online, and celebrating with their dogs and balloons.

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA Makana Medeiros ’20E celebrates receiving his degree from the Eastman School of Music with his younger brother Lanakila, left, and his parents Bruce and Wendy, middle and right.


Medeiros is the fourth of five children to Bruce and Wendy Medeiros, and the first to receive a bachelor’s degree. He’s headed to the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he will pursue his master’s degree in contemporary performance.

“I will never forget all the inspiration to strive to be a better leader and musician that came from my Eastman education,” he says.

Chris Goodwin and his wife, Sierra Fox, received their doctoral degrees in biochemistry from the School of Medicine. They met at the University years ago and both received master’s degrees in 2016. They celebrate Friday at their home in Palmyra, New Jersey. “Going from grad school into quarantine has been very weird,” Goodwin says.


PALMYRA, NEW JERSEY: New biochemistry doctoral graduates Chris Goodwin and Sierra Fox celebrate at home.

They celebrated by baking cinnamon buns and eating them while they watched the online commencement videos and the School of Medicine and Dentistry biochemistry and biophysics department virtual award ceremony. “We had a ‘Sierra and Chris’ banner left over from our post-thesis defense party months ago and hung that up behind us for a more festive atmosphere,” Goodwin says.


Annemarie Kearns summed up the feelings of hundreds of new University of Rochester graduates: “The past few weeks do not define the incredible life-long friendships, unique experiences, and unforgettable memories made over the last four years. We cannot wait to join the alumni community and see all the amazing things the Class of 2020 will do, and we look forward to the day we can all be back on campus to celebrate in person.”



For the last four years, Jamal Holtz ’20 has called Rochester his home, and from the moment he set foot on campus, he knew he wanted to make an impact here.

“I always said, when I step onto any community,” says Holtz, who was elected to serve as Students’ Association president in his senior year. “I make it a community that I live in, not a community that I just come for four years and leave.”

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