The School of Arts & Sciences-Newark celebrated the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on Wednesday, November 10 with a day of ceremonies at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. By 9am and well into the evening, NJPAC was bustling with happy SASN graduates and their families, many reuniting with their Rutgers peers and professors in person for the first time since the pandemic forced them to shift to virtual.
Karen Caplan, senior associate dean of the school and associate professor of history, acknowledged the challenges the graduates faced in completing their studies amid a global pandemic, and congratulated them on their perseverance and resilience. “You’ve waited a long time to celebrate your accomplishment,” she told the graduates,and added that it was worth the wait. “You are now part of our alumni family.”
SASN Dean Jacqueline Mattis began her address by urging the graduates to “Remember who you are, and whose you are.”
“Who saw you through the challenges?” she asked, “Who fed you, literally, spiritually, emotionally? Who loved you and laughed with you through these last few years?”
She then expressed her wishes for the class of 2020 and 2021.
"It will come as no surprise to you that you will not be welcome at every table, in every room,” she said. “But do not live your life waiting for permission to be welcomed into spaces that never imagined you.” Quoting Shirley Chisholm, who became the first African American woman in Congress in 1968, Mattis added, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
She also hoped that the graduates would have “many encounters” with those who do not share their views, and that those encounters would lead to both parties seeking to connect rather than burn bridges.
Mattis advised the graduates that it was now their turn to make the world better. “Every day you eat from trees you did not plant. Every day you enjoy the fruits of someone else’s sacrifice and labor. You now have the responsibility to plant trees that will yield fruit for those who are coming behind you.”
Mattis' final wish for the graduates was a big imagination and “dreams that excite you so much that you will work tirelessly to make them real."
There was a solemn moment of silence at the celebration for the Class of 2021 on Wednesday afternoon, formally acknowledging Nina Manougian, a Fine Arts major who passed away suddenly just as the Spring 2021 semester was coming to a close. Her family will be presented with a posthumous degree on her behalf.
Collen Gutwein, an instructor in the Arts, Culture, & Media department who taught Manougian and oversaw her Senior Studio capstone project said, “I will certainly miss Nina's laugh, it was as unique as she was, and continues to echo in my mind. She was always active in class discussions, and she helped keep the class engaged with her contributions and energy. In Senior Studio this spring, Nina really came into her own as an artist, committed to her journey, and she found a strong voice in her work and brought it into the classroom, which was a benefit to everyone.”
Commencement photos by John Christopher Salvador, Mel Evans, Nora Luongo.