2020 and 2021 DMSE grads return for ceremony and celebration
June 8, 2022
Members of the classes of 2020 and 2021 pose for a photo at a DMSE reception on May 28 at Samberg Conference Center in Cambridge. DMSE grads joined other MIT graduates for in-person festivities, after the pandemic forced their commencement exercises online.
In March 2020, just as MIT announced it would shut down, sending students off campus in an effort to slow the spread of covid-19, Professor Jeffrey Grossman gathered with students in the Chipman Room, a conference room near DMSE headquarters. There the department head made a promise to the students who had prepared to walk in commencement ceremonies in the following months: to celebrate their achievements, in person, as soon as possible.
On May 28, Grossman made good on that promise. Across MIT, members of the classes of 2020 and 2021, whose commencement exercises were forced online, returned to campus for a special ceremony in Killian Court. Soon after their names were called and they received congratulatory scrolls, DMSE grads gathered at the Samberg Conference Center for a reunion, wearing gowns and regalia.
“DMSE grads—DMSE alumni—you have, rest assured, earned the right to celebrate,” said Grossman to the approximately 125 graduates, family members, and friends in attendance.
Grossman recounted the difficult early days of the pandemic, when students migrated their academic lives online, resuming their classes and staying connected to their peers via Zoom.
“When your classmates needed support, academic or otherwise, you were there, whether it was to help solve a materials problem or offer words of encouragement or condolence. These were, again, very hard times,” Grossman said. “And yet, you made it through. You finished your studies, earned your degrees, and struck out into a world that was in flux at best; chaos at worst.”
DMSE students, he said, came back to MIT because their connection to the department and its people remains strong.
“It put you on airplanes, took you across the country and the world to be with your friends, your classmates, your peers—to give each other real high fives and handshakes and hugs. To trade stories of ‘life out there’ versus ‘life in here.’ To laugh and joke and share your joy.”
According to the MIT Alumni Association, the open rate on emailed invitations for the day’s events to 2020 and 2021 DMSE graduates was 90%, with 70% of recipients sending RSVPs.
“One of the things that makes our department so special is the strength of our community,” said Ximena Hasbach, a 2019 DMSE graduate and program director of the department’s career development initiative for alumni and students, FORGE. “It says so much that the vast majority of them returned to be together again.”
For Sungjin Kim, who was preparing his doctoral thesis in early 2020 when the pandemic struck, coming back to MIT was like restarting what he described as “paused time.”
In the time leading up to lockdown, “My daily routines at MIT disappeared one by one. I did not know it was going to be my last day at my office, last day of meeting in person with my group members and my advisor to talk about my graduation and future-forward.”
Later, when he had to defend his thesis on Zoom and he learned his graduation also would be virtual, “I felt that I was deprived of a chance to celebrate my six years of endeavors with my family in Killian Court and say farewells to my peers and friends,” said Kim, now a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Back at MIT in May, the special ceremony and DMSE reception were “the symbolic moments that resumed my paused MIT time to its well-deserved happy ending.” —Jason Sparapani