VIMS 2024 graduates ready to make waves

W&M School of Marine Science graduates pose for a picture at their Diploma Ceremony. VIMS photo

“It’s a good day to be a duck,” joked Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Siddhartha Mitra as he welcomed everyone to the William & Mary School of Marine Science (W&M SMS) Diploma Ceremony held in the McHugh Auditorium at VIMS on the very wet morning of Saturday, May 18. The steady rain outside didn’t dampen the spirits of the friends, family and VIMS faculty and staff who gathered to celebrate the graduation of 18 SMS students.

Mitra expressed his gratitude for the parents, teachers, faculty and staff who all played a part in the success of this year’s class before turning his attention to the students themselves.

“As an alum, I know how tough and rigorous the scholarship here is,” said Mitra. “Thank you for becoming better scientists, for becoming better critical thinkers, better writers, becoming representatives of VIMS and evolving into some of the best coastal marine scientists in the world.”

Mitra then introduced VIMS Director and SMS Dean Derek Aday.

VIMS Director & SMS Dean Derek Aday addresses the audience during the ceremony. Photo by John Wallace“I want to do just two simple things here. First, I want to celebrate the graduates who are with us today. You are all very much a part of, and, in fact, central to the impact that we have every day on the people, species, and systems that we depend upon in Virginia and around the world,” said Aday. “And following Sid's note, I want to thank you all for the work that you've done here and for the contributions you've made.”

Aday continued by acknowledging the challenges that the students faced as they pursued their degrees during tumultuous global events and societal unrest, expressing great pride in the many accomplishments of this year’s class.

Indeed, the graduates’ accomplishments were many. Here are just a few of the highlights mentioned:

  • Sixty-one publications in prestigious academic journals, including a policy paper written by an M.A. student that won first place in a national competition sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • The attainment of nearly every major fellowship or award offered by VIMS. Some also secured fellowships through the National Science Foundation and won research awards at various regional and national conferences.
  • Six of this year’s graduates were W&M Teaching Fellows.

Aday noted that many of the graduates will go on to work with organizations at the federal level, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Others will continue their education or become postdoctoral scientists at universities.

Aday reflected on a quote from a recent W&M lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham: “When you speak, the wish cannot always be the parent of the thought.” He noted the unprecedented times in which we live, and the important roles that the graduates will play in defining the science that underpins our collective knowledge and informs future actions and policies.

“You have the real privilege and the responsibility of being the thinkers and the solution finders of the generations ahead. So, with that in mind, I hope that you will pick your battles wisely,” said Aday. “I hope you'll manage your evidence carefully and that you'll communicate intentionally. And when you do, I know that you'll find the places where you can make the biggest difference and you'll flex the muscle that you've been developing over the last number of years…When that happens, I know that we'll all be in excellent shape in the years ahead.”

After Aday’s remarks, Mitra called upon students from each program to join him on the stage to collect their certificate as well as a small present from VIMS administrators. Students beamed with pride as they posed for photographs and accepted their degrees.

Ph.D. candidate Jim Gartland provides words of wisdom to his classmates. VIMS photo. Following a tradition of student remarks at graduation, Ph.D. student Jim Gartland took the stage to address his classmates. He reflected on the accomplishments of his fellow graduates, and he emphasized that this is a time to accelerate their learning, not to slow down.

“We need to stay sharp. We need to build on the knowledge, the work ethic, and the resiliency that we learned here at VIMS,” said Gartland. “Keep a fire on you. If you do that, I promise you will be successful in your careers.”

After gathering on stage for a final group photo, attendees braved a short walk through the rain to gather under a large tent erected on the lawn overlooking the York River. 

Following VIMS tradition, Siddhartha Mitra toasts the graduates during a reception following the Diploma Ceremony. Photo by John Wallace

Maintaining another VIMS tradition, Mitra stood on top of one of the picnic tables and addressed the crowd with final words of advice and a toast to this year’s class.

“In your life, at any given moment, the strongest dream in that moment wins. Dream big, graduates,” Mitra’s toast concluded, and then he welcomed everyone to continue their celebration with lunch and refreshments.