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At Commencement, Jamieson Hails Penn’s Role in Fighting Pandemic

At the University of Pennsylvania commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 and the 2021 master’s and doctoral degrees, Kathleen Hall Jamieson involved the losses wrought by the pandemic — and lauded the far-reaching role played by Penn undergrads, graduates, and faculty in combating the coronavirus.

“This is both a joyous and a sad occasion,” Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, and chair of the 2020 faculty senate, told the graduates. “Many have lost loved ones in recent years, some to Covid-19. Graduates, you are the living legacy of the family members and faculty mentors who made this day possible for you but did not live to celebrate it with you.”

Speaking to the May 22, 2022, gathering at Franklin Field, Jamieson continued:

“Your class graduated into a world rife with disease and disinformation. The Penn community – undergrads, grads, and faculty alike – did something about both. From the start, Penn’s newly minted nurses and doctors picked up PPE along with their diplomas and entered emergency rooms to save lives. We owe plaudits as well to the graduates of Law, Vet, Dental, Design, Wharton, SP2, Engineering, Education, Annenberg, and SAS for innovations in ventilation and wastewater testing, redesigned work spaces, Covid-detecting dogs, accountability journalism, exemplary teaching, and resilience-inducing literature and art and so much more. For their fearless fight against disease, those in Penn’s labs deserve our lasting gratitude as well…

“Penn researchers Drew Weissman and Katie Karikó created the technology that made the messenger RNA vaccines possible. I propose memorializing their achievement, which in the annals of Penn should rival the creation of Eniac, by revising the Penn anthem to say this, at the end of today’s commencement ceremony: “Fair Harvard has her crimson, Old Yale her colors too, but the mRNA vaccines that busted Covid came wrapped in red and blue.

“However, vaccines can’t work without vaccination. So nursing prof Alison Buttenheim created Dear Pandemic, to help the public understand public health issues. And’s Covid corrections were abutted to deceptive content on Facebook, carried as 15-second PSAs by iHeartRadio, featured in the search sidebars on Google, amplified by Univision, and cumulatively garnered more than 800 million impressions.

“Penn’s collective response to the pandemic can be assessed by the standards implied by Franklin’s adage, ‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing’ [about]. Ben did both – by editorializing in support of smallpox inoculation, counteracting disinformation that falsely alleged that his four-year-old son had died as a result of inoculation against smallpox, and by tasking the nation’s first hospital with caring for the sick poor. In like fashion, where and Dear Pandemic are worth reading, Penn doctors and nurses and the mRNA research of Weissman and Karikó are worth writing and even singing about. So, too, are our graduates.”

See the full speech on YouTube and read Penn Today’s account of the graduation: ‘Oft-delayed but never deterred,’ Class of 2020 and 2021 grads celebrate

Kathleen Hall Jamieson at Penn's commencement for the class of 2020 and master's and doctoral degrees 2021.
Credit: Photo by Eric Sucar/University of Pennsylvania