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CMU graduates celebrate at Commencement.

Carnegie Mellon University Holds 126th Commencement

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

On Sunday, May 12, Carnegie Mellon University held its 126th Commencement, conferring a total of 5,448 degrees. The ceremony began with the CMU tradition of Pipes and Drums(opens in new window) leading a formal procession of members of the platform group. 

The procession was followed by an invocation given by Pastor Jennifer McCurry, Carnegie Mellon University’s coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life Initiatives(opens in new window). The National Anthem was sung by Solomon Onyukwu, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Vocal Performance.

Carnegie Mellon University Board of Trustees(opens in new window) Chair David Coulter(opens in new window) emphasized the university's support for and pride in the graduating class.

“Commencement is one of the most special days each year at Carnegie Mellon. Today, we are thrilled to celebrate the extraordinary graduates of the Class of 2024,” Coulter said. “This degree demonstrates that you have accumulated deep knowledge within your field — or perhaps fields — but it represents so much more: days and nights of hard work, ingenuity, creativity, failure, recovery, discovery and dedication.”

Coulter’s remarks were followed by those of President Farnam Jahanian(opens in new window). The president expressed his gratitude to the students, and extended that gratitude to the families and loved ones who provided support throughout their education. 

Farnam Jahanian takes a photograph with students at Commencement.

Farnam Jahanian takes a photograph with graduates at Commencement. 

"Today, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to gather as a community for our 126th Commencement," Jahanian said. "To our graduating students, it’s been a thrill to watch you grow and develop into the incredible scholars you are now and it is an absolute joy to honor your achievements today."

Jahanian also thanked the university's staff, faculty, trustees, emeritus community members and newly distinguished University Professors.

Both Coulter and Jahanian noted one additional point of celebration with the ceremony coinciding with the annual Mother's Day holiday, and gave a warm welcome to the mothers and families in attendance.

Jahanian welcomed the first of the day's distinguished speakers, award-winning journalist and CMU alumna Brit McCandless Farmer.

Brit McCandless Farmer

Brit McCandless Farmer

Farmer, a 2008 graduate of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences(opens in new window) who serves as president of the Carnegie Mellon University Alumni Association Board(opens in new window), gave words of encouragement to the graduating class.

“Today is the day Carnegie Mellon becomes your alma mater,” Farmer said. “In Latin, that means “nourishing mother,” so it feels appropriate that today, Mother’s Day, is dedicated to this place, which has helped you grow into the person you are becoming and send you into the world better prepared. And like a mother, it will be here for you, care about you, and feel proud of you.”

Farmer introduced the day’s student speaker, Sarah Chen, who now holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science with University Honors.

“We’re sitting here now, finally, at our Commencement, equipped with newfound skills to go out and make our own impact on this world,” Chen said. “How did we get here? Our younger selves never gave up. We immersed ourselves in this community that encouraged and inspired us. And we became stronger because of it.”

After a brief introduction, Carnegie Mellon’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer James H. Garrett Jr.(opens in new window) took the podium, and the day's honorary degree recipients — Charles Evans, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Bill Strecker and Reeta Roy — were hooded.

Reeta Roy

Reeta Roy

Roy, the president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation, was then introduced by Jahanian as the day's keynote speaker.

As Roy spoke to the audience, she emphasized the importance of keeping unlikely paths in mind as the graduates take the next steps in their careers, calling on lessons from her own life. 

“As you step out into this world, be open to improbable stories — the ones where the storylines aren’t straight, and the next chapter has yet to unfold. Be prepared to live your improbable story, because that one will be your best,” Roy said.

Near the end of the ceremony, Jahanian made note of some of the exceptional difficulties faced by this class of students — most notably, that many began their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It was a disruption that touched every aspect of society and every corner of the world. But look at you now," Jahanian said. "You made it, and you didn’t just manage. You adapted. You showed resilience. And you persevered."

Jahanian delivered his charge to students in three parts.

"First, be relentless in your pursuit of knowledge," Jahanian said. "The pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong commitment. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and embrace adventure.

"Second, seek out perspectives other than your own," he added. "In a world that seems to be increasingly divided, it is more important than ever to find ways to forge common ground.

"My third and final piece of advice today is to dare to believe that you can change the world and that the world is open to change."

For those graduates who were present to receive these words of encouragement, the day imparted lasting memories and optimism for the future.

CMU Commencement 2024 aerial photo.

An aerial view of Carnegie Mellon University's 126th Commencement. 

Alexandra Newby, who earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering(opens in new window), said she was excited for her family to see her graduate.

“It’s more their moment because they supported me along the way,” she said, while wearing the faded velvet robe her father, Richard Newby, wore in 1971 when he earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon.

“It’s definitely an inspiration to walk in his footsteps,” said Newby, who also earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at CMU. She will stay on as teaching faculty at the university. “He’s proud that I could wear it.”

Before the ceremony started, Vedang Kokil helped Haran Sri with his robe and hood, lined in orange to represent their mechanical engineering master’s degrees. They were looking forward to processing onto the field with all of the graduates after their diploma ceremony Friday. “It’s going to be nice to all walk in together,” Sri said.

The two met in their first class together — bonding over using Macs instead of PCs. They also took a class together in the fall, near the end of their degree programs “that had a lot of late nights together,” said Kokil, who officially graduated in December.

Megan Johnston, who earned a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering(opens in new window), posed for pictures near Doherty Hall before the ceremony for her mom Barbara, dad Steve and sister Emma, who flew in from North Carolina for Commencement. She wanted to attend the ceremony after her high school graduation was rained out and her undergraduate ceremony happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graduates throw their caps in the air.

Graduates throw their caps in the air after Commencement.

“I’m excited to see all my friends, since I haven’t seen them in six months,” she said, now working in Atlanta, with plans to have a picnic with about 10 of her fellow graduates after the ceremony.

Carina Sanborn, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science(opens in new window), was also taking a few last-minute photos on the Cut with her mom Cathy, including a selfie together.

“Finals were stressful, but this past week I got to chill and hang out in Pittsburgh, so it was nice,” the new graduate said, adding that she will be moving to Seattle to work as a software engineer.

Tamara Savage, who officially finished her degree in August and has been working for the California State Senate Office of Research, graduated with her Ph.D. in engineering and public policy(opens in new window). For Savage, the best part of Commencement was knowing she was done with homework — forever.

“Turning in that last-ever paper was such a high,” Savage said.

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