Skip to main content

Congratulations to the Class of 2020

Penn Nursing wouldn’t let a global pandemic stop it from celebrating our graduates. The annual rite of passage – commencement – looked a little different this year due to COVID-19, but it was still special event. The graduates, their families, friends, and the Penn Nursing community, gathered online for the School’s first-ever virtual graduation on May 18, 2020. We celebrated our students’ years of dedicated studying, clinical rotations, research, papers, and exams, and welcomed another class among the ranks of the Penn Nursing Alumni.

In her welcoming remarks, Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel said, “Our legacy of educating tomorrow’s leaders in health and health care continues, just as it has for the last 130 plus years. The Power of Penn Nursing is made stronger through crisis—as are you, our graduates.”

The entire virtual commencement ceremony can be watched here.


The hour and a half event honored all of our 585 graduates. That number includes all the students who will have received degrees this academic year, including December 2019, May and August 2020 graduates. The breakdown of the 2020 graduating class is as follows:

  • 20 PhDs
  • 29 DNPs
  • 349 Graduate Students
  • 187 Undergraduate Students 


Dean Villarruel introduced Suzanne Miyamoto, PhD, RN, FAAN, Chief Executive Officer of the American Academy of Nursing, as the 2020 Penn Nursing graduation speaker. Miyamoto is highly regarded for her expertise in health care and education policy as well as her leadership and successful development of advocacy-based coalitions. Prior to her position at the Academy, Miyamoto served as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACN) Chief Policy Officer. She delivered an impassioned speech based on her own career and in light of the coronavirus that is impacting the global community. 

As part of her speech, Miyamoto told the graduating class, “Throughout the centuries of modern nursing, our science, evidence, experience having embedded in us is one true prevailing lesson: we impact the human condition through the human connection. You see it today as we face a global pandemic.”


Several students in the Class of 2020 received awards for their leadership ability, creativity, academic, and research excellence. A full list is below:

Stephanie Tran Rojas

The Alumni Spirit Award for Graduating Students is awarded for outstanding contributions to the achievement of Penn Nursing Alumni goals, including fostering loyalty to the School and the University and advancing social and professional bonds among classmates and alumni during their student experiences. 

Rachele K. Lipsky

The Ann Wolbert Burgess Endowed Student Award is awarded to a graduat­ing PhD student for demonstrating excellence and leadership in nursing, as evidenced by a completed doctoral dissertation that holds significant promise as a contribution to nursing knowledge. 

Michelle Nigro

The Dean’s Award is awarded to a graduating PhD, master’s, or undergraduate student who epitomizes the philosophy of the School of Nursing 

Jennifer Morone

The Claire M. Fagin Award is awarded to a graduating PhD, master’s, or un­dergraduate student who has demonstrated a high level of leadership and creativity at the School of Nursing or within the larger Penn community. 

Marta Bruce

The Marion R. Gregory Award is awarded to the PhD student whose complet­ed dissertation promises significant contribution to nursing knowledge. 

Sarah Devlin

The Norma M. Lang Award is awarded to an undergraduate or master’s stu­dent who has demonstrated excellence in academic and scholarly practice. 

Derek Cope

The Theresa I. Lynch Award is awarded to a graduating PhD, master’s, or un­dergraduate student for consistent contributions to the advancement of the School of Nursing. 

Nia Akins

The Jeanne Frances Hopkins Award is awarded to a nursing undergraduate or graduate student who has achieved academic excellence while embarking on a uniquely Penn curricular opportunity. 

Katelin “Katie” Hoskins

The Dorothy Mereness Award is awarded to a graduating PhD, master’s, or undergraduate student for excellence in scholarly writing. 

Lindsay Foster

The JoAnn Nallinger Grant Award is awarded to a nursing undergraduate who is graduating with a minor in Nutrition or a second major in Nutrition Science, and who has demonstrated academic excellence and exemplary achievement in education, service, and/or research. 

Nina Juntereal

The Mary D. Naylor Undergraduate Research Award is awarded to a nursing undergraduate student who demonstrates contributions to advancing nursing knowledge through research.

Sydney A. Axson

The Henry O. Thompson Prize in Ethics is awarded to a graduating masters or doctoral student for distinction on ethical thinking and action.

Emily De Penning

The Joyce E. Thompson Award in Women’s Health is awarded to the masters student who demonstrates leadership and excellence in maternal and child health. 

Gabrielle Ramos

The Rosalyn J. Watts Diversity Scholar Leadership Award is awarded to the undergraduate student whose outstanding qualities of scholarship and leadership exemplify a commitment to the Penn SON Office of Diversity and Cultural Affairs by serving as a role model to promote meaningful interaction among diverse groups.

Samelle Arhin

The Sigma Theta Tau BSN Student Leadership Award recognizes a BSN student who demonstrates a capacity for innovation, professionalism, and leadership among his or her peers and in the community.

Aaron Ahlgreen Huntley

The Sigma Theta Tau MSN Student Leadership Award recognizes an MSN student who demonstrates a capacity for innovation, professionalism, and leadership among his or her peers and in the community.

Clair Whitney

The Sigma Theta Tau PhD Student Leadership Award recognizes a PhD student who demonstrates a high level of academic achievement, leadership, and service within the School of Nursing, University and/or the community.


Several Penn Nursing students were also honored with University awards during the School’s 264th Commencement: 

Nia Akins

The Association of Alumnae Fathers’ Trophy Award for her outstanding academic, athletic, and leadership qualities and her contribution to women’s athletics at Penn.

Jessica Andrews

The Penn Student Agencies Award for her distinguished academic achievement and significant leadership in undergraduate activitiesby the members of the senior class. 

Heidi Chiu

The James Brister Society, Asian Alumni Network Student Leadership Award for her impact on the diverse community at Penn. 

Lindsay Foster

The Penn Alumni Student Award of Merit for her outstanding service to the University, her academic achievement, and her alumni engagement.

Tafshena Khan

The Stephen Wise Award for her investment in Penn’s Muslim community, for her kindness at all times, and for her gracious leadership through challenging times.

Ruth Lee

The Rose Award from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships for her outstanding undergraduate research project.