History Department holds virtual celebration for PhD graduates

May 26, 2020
By Kathryn Blair
On Sunday, May 17 the Department of History and the Program in the History of Science and Medicine hosted their first (and hopefully last!) virtual celebration for our PhD graduates. 
When Yale’s in-person commencement celebrations for the year were canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of History and the Program in the History of Science and Medicine organized a celebration of our graduates on Zoom.  Faculty, staff, graduates, family, friends, and other members of the community were invited to attend.  Guests dialed in from all over the world — from South Africa to South Korea, Australia to Ireland — to recognize the 24 graduating students’ achievements.  Some included signs congratulating graduates, others sported caps, all which helped to make the online celebration look and feel a little more like the commencements we are used to! 

Thanks to @yale_history, especially MC/host @paulesabin, for throwing a virtual graduation ceremony yesterday, complete with curated Zoom backgrounds & video clips from every graduate’s primary advisor.

No regalia or hood, but this was a spectacle of its own. pic.twitter.com/fgTwQNlIqx

— Keri Lambert (@_drkeri) May 18, 2020

Professor Paul Sabin, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History acted as the host for the event and offered a welcome.  This was followed by remarks by both Professor Alan Mikhail, Chair of the Department of History, and Professor Deborah Coen, Chair of the Program in the History of Science and Medicine. The bulk of the program consisted of a comment recorded in advance for each graduate.  Each graduate’s dissertation committee chair recorded a message of approximately a minute and a half of congratulations.  In offering their messages, professors chose to highlight different aspects of individual student’s time at Yale, some highlighting a specific historical event that was important in a dissertation, others emphasizing a student’s outstanding teaching efforts, and still others focusing on the wide-ranging archival research students engaged in.  Watching them together was a real testament to the depth and breadth of the work that this year’s 24 graduates have been engaged in over the course of their time at Yale.  The final congratulatory message was recorded by Marcy Kaufman, Department Registrar.  Throughout this section of the program, family, friends, and fellow graduates offered congratulations through notes in the Chat, silent applause, and hands raised in celebration. 
The program concluded with remarks from Professor Naomi Rogers, DGS of the Program in the History of Science and Medicine.  In her comments, Rogers reflected on the changes that the AIDS pandemic, what she referred to as the first modern pandemic, wrought.  In doing so she encouraged reflection and introspection about the ways in which the current crisis might change our perception of “normal.”  At the conclusion of the program, Professor Sabin encouraged everyone to join in a cheer and applause for the graduates collectively. 
Even though we missed gathering physically and sharing hugs and handshakes in celebration and farewell, it was still a marvelous opportunity to celebrate each graduate individually and their tremendous accomplishments.