Emerson College’s graduate schools held in-person hooding ceremonies for the first time in a few years, and even behind masks, giant smiles were evident.
In separate ceremonies held at the Paramount Center, the School of Communication (SOC) and School of the Arts (SOA), celebrated this year’s graduating classes with peers, friends, and family.
Before filing into the theater, students eagerly awaited behind the scenes, and spoke about why they pursued their degrees.
“I want to publish novels,” said Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing graduate Emily Johnson. Johnson worked full-time at Barnes & Nobles while attending Emerson online. “Books, books, books. And I’d like to work for a publishing house.”
For many classmates, it was the first time they had met in person. A teacher in Egypt, it was Mai Hamada’s first time in Boston, and meeting Johnson, and fellow program peers Dustin Hempel and Jennifer Correia. The four of them worked together on creating and managing Page Turner Magazine.
“I want to write sci-fi fantasy novels,” said Hempel. “I switched [careers] from something I hate to something I love.”
Giving Opportunities and Getting Back to Beginnings
“I want to give students an opportunity to learn theatre, which I wasn’t able to do,” said Alexander Narcotta, of receiving a Masters in Theater Education and Applied Theatre. He said he was pursuing teaching opportunities.
Zoe Nadal has been teaching at schools in Boston and Cambridge, and had been a professional actress for several years, but felt like she lost the process of acting.
“I didn’t like working towards a product. There’s a void of exploration of the art form,” said Nadal. “I wanted to come back to teaching. I enjoy the process of putting on a piece together.”
Olivia Ujlaki wanted a Masters in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics to build on her undergraduate Journalism degree.
“There’s an increasing need for people who can think strategically with data,” said Ujlaki. “It combines storytelling with data. I think it’s a very important skill today.”
WERS Content Coordinator Phil Jones, who receive a Master of Arts in Media Design, donned a cap adorned with an illustration of Thomas the Train.
“It’s the episode when Thomas leaves the freight train yard for the first time and fails spectacularly,” said Jones. “It’s emblematic of finishing my high school degree eight years ago, and going along the rollercoaster of defining myself, and now the image represents success.”
Unbeknownst to Alexandra Vogel, who received a Master of Arts in Strategic Marketing Communication, her father, Marketing Communication Professor Thomas Vogel, secretly arranged for him to step to the lectern from his seat on stage to announce his daughter’s name.
“She doesn’t know that it’s happening,” smiled the proud father behind his mask. “[Former Performing Arts Professor] Bob Colby did it for his son years ago. I thought it was so cool. This is my 21st Emerson commencement and my first [with a graduating child].”
“Earning a master’s degree is a major accomplishment that requires hard work and sacrifice– our graduates know this better than anyone,” said Interim Provost Jan Roberts-Breslin. “But earning a master’s degree during a pandemic marks a whole new level of work and commitment, sacrifice and resilience. Graduates: You did it, and you did it exceptionally well. In earning this degree, you have set a strong foundation for the rest of your life… and we can’t wait to see where it takes you.”
Kim McLarin, Interim Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Emerson, provided the Graduate ceremony addresses, and quoted author Toni Morrison, who said hard times are precisely the times that artists go to work.
“But if you read the rest of the essay — and you should always read the rest of the essay — she expands her definition to include all who care about language and the imagination, all who care about the connection between how we speak and how we think. Hard times are when journalists and scholars and teachers of every kind go to work,” said McLarin.
Graduate speakers told stories of trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
An animated Lemar Archer, who received a Masters of Fine Arts in Theater Education and Applied Theatre, spoke about adapting to Boston from his native Jamaica. Like everyone else, he didn’t expect to have to take classes online, and while it was hard, it was harder once he came to Boston for school. Leaving home, adjusting to a New England winter, and the death of his father less than a month ago, led to depression. But he learned that through that breaking and losing, he was evolving, growing, learning, and expanding.
“Today I am happy to report that through our resilience, perseverance, and hard work, in the middle of a global crisis, a racial pandemic and even war; we have arrived! Like fine metal tried in the fire we have emerged as pure gold,” said Archer.
SOC graduate speaker Drew Genova spoke about their determination to get into Emerson College. Genova spoke about the tough circumstances of their formative high school years of sleeping on friends’ couches, basements, garages, air mattresses, floors, and outside. But Genova was able to attend a dance and performance school, which became an escape. Through a friend, they learned about Emerson, fell in love with the school, and knew it was the place for them.
“I applied to Emerson undergrad for three semesters in a row. Each time, Emerson mailed me a letter of their decision. Each letter was hope and a dream to bring me to a new life. And each letter began with We have reviewed your application, and unfortunately…,” said Genova.
While working full-time, during seven years they received an associate’s degree and finished their undergrad degree at different colleges. And in 2019, Emerson’s Career Development Center hired Genova as their Internship Coordinator.
They applied one more time to Emerson, this time to a graduate program, and was accepted into the Master of Arts in Media Design program for Fall 2020.
“My dream took me 10 years to achieve, and here I stand graduating alongside you. We all have a story,” said Genova. “Our pathway through life is not linear, but filled with bumps, sharp turns, confusing signs and dead ends. Let us keep in mind those who are struggling to find their way, and who may not have as many opportunities laid out in front of them. For those who made mistakes, or who got lost, or for those who may not understand what they need, let us remind them that no one can take away your dream. With hope, determination, perseverance, and a little bit of love, that dream can become real.”
Friendship and Resilience Fueled Speech@Emerson Graduates
Photos by Derek Palmer
A separate ceremony for the online Speech@Emerson graduate program was held on April 27 at the Boston Convention Center.
Student speakers Lashana Bell and Danielle Pappe spoke about resilience and the importance of friendship. Across the country, students faced and endured COVID-19, societal unrest, technical problems, taking classes in cars, moving, the death of loves ones, and happy occasions such as weddings and births.
“I think that’s a perfect description of what we went through,” said Bell. “Our student body is made up of a myriad of people. Dedicated mothers and fathers who managed award-winning balancing acts. Students who continued to work to help pay for school and support themselves. Sons and daughters who, in addition to being students, were also selfless caregivers. Resilience.”
Pappe spoke about how she had a long-term plan to graduate, and as time went on, the end seemed further away than closer. But her fellow speech language pathologists inspired and carried her to the finish line.
“Through all the classes, projects, and exams, I have come to rely on this group of individuals. I could not imagine making it through this program without them,” said Pappe. “Seeing you all, I am reminded of how much we have all learned and grown as students and professionals to the people we are today in this room and that fear starts to subside. We are taking the first step into the world of Speech Language Pathology together and I can think of no other individuals that I would rather be with at this moment. I have every faith that we will continue on to be amazing clinicians in our field.”