Long-separated friends reunited to catch up and take cherished graduation photos in their regalia and make memories with one another.

After working diligently for years, student parents walked across the graduation stage with their children to receive their degrees and mark a very special occasion.

Faculty—after years of mentorship and long stretches of time seeing students only remotely—finally reunited with their pupils to celebrate their achievements in the same room.

These were the scenes that marked the College’s Convocation for 2020 and 2021 graduates, a fulfillment of a promise that TC leaders made—and delivered on—during a once-in-a-lifetime celebration for the community.

“It’s been a long time coming,” President Thomas Bailey concurred in welcoming 750 graduates and loved ones to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens.

“The pandemic posed unprecedented challenges,” Bailey said to a live audience and those watching virtually from across the globe. “Many of you had to juggle parenting or other kinds of care and working and scholarly pursuits. Some of you faced the death of loved ones, illness, solitude or economic insecurity. But you persisted. You kept your purpose front and center.”

These TC alumni—whose degrees were formally conferred at least a year ago—have since moved on to jobs, the pursuit of higher academic degrees or both. But the reunion with their classmates, faculty and families still celebrated the triumph over a critical chapter.

“This shows TC didn’t forget us,” said Chris Quach (M.A. ’20, Higher and Postsecondary Education).

The so-called pandemic classes, which had previously celebrated virtually with Convocation speakers that included
Nikole Hannah Jones and Stacey Abrams, also received invitations to participate in the May 18, 2002, Columbia University-wide commencement exercises and at the May 23, 2002, TC Convocation ceremonies.

Sienna Chambers (M.A. ’21, Education Policy & Social Analysis) appreciated the gestures.

“We worked so hard that even two years later we’re happy to celebrate the achievement,” said Chambers.

The graduates were celebrated by presidential advisor Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and the father of a TC graduate.

"Each of you deserves enormous credit and respect for your extraordinary adaptability, resilience, passion and dedication to learning, completing your studies and graduating despite immense difficulties and uncertainties," Fauci said in pre-taped remarks.

Introduced by the College’s Sonali Rajan, Associate Professor of Health Education, Fauci predicted the disruptions inflicted by Covid will forever “be unique to each of you” as he encouraged the graduates to “apply your abilities for critical thinking to analyze and examine the skills you’ve honed here at Teachers College to discern and challenge weak assertions built on untruths. As future leaders of our society we are counting on you for that.” 

Unique as well were impromptu Sunday reunions with program classmates occurring on a day technically set aside for graduation.

“We appreciated being celebrated virtually, but it left a void,” explained Bryan Diaz, (Ed.D ’20), who with his classmates, now works in New York City. “And virtual could never beat this.”

The attendance of Noor Alawadhi (Ed.D. ’20,
Nutrition) entailed a bit more effort—as in a 12-hour flight from Kuwait. 

An Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Health Education and Behavior Studies at Kuwait University, Alawadhi emailed TC “all year” for assurances that the College would make good on the promise to give the Class of 2020 its due.

“After working extremely hard for seven years I thought I deserved to be hooded,” she explained.

Bailey urged Alawahdhi and her classmates to “hold tight to that sense of purpose that has brought you to where you are today, you will make change, you will have an impact, and you will make this world a better place.”

[Visit the Convocation site for more coverage]