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Nazareth celebrates the perseverance of Class of 2021 with 94th Commencement on campus

Published May 12, 2021

The Nazareth College Class of 2021 — which will forever be remembered for its perseverance, adaptability, and strength — will be celebrated at the in-person 94th Commencement ceremonies, held for the first time in the Golisano Training Center (GTC) on campus. The graduate ceremonies are Friday, May 14, at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The undergraduate ceremonies are Saturday, May 15, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Each of the five ceremonies will be livestreamed; see Commencement 2021.

"This is a celebration for our Class of 2021— and a Commencement ceremony like no other before it. It's our first in the Golisano Training Center, but most importantly, it's in-person after more than a year of the pandemic," said President Beth Paul. "Our Nazareth community has been society's best example of living and learning together during a time when many found it difficult to heed humanity's call. This was a combined effort that will forever be marked in our history."

Paul hails the teamwork of so many staff on campus who worked overtime on logistics to make the in-person ceremonies a reality. Each Nazareth graduate could invite two registered guests to attend the indoor ceremony, per state guidelines, and other family members are able to be on campus and watch the livestream. Each guest on campus has to show proof of vaccination or a COVID-19 test within specified time periods, among other pandemic protocols. The Commencement livestream is also available for family and friends to watch from afar.

A total of 899 graduates (both undergrad and grad) earned degrees in the 2020-2021 academic year. The Class of 2021 hails from 21 states and as far away as China.

Asked about the lessons they are taking with them, students spoke of high expectations, life-long connections, and adaptability. The importance of connection and support, of "exploring what sparks a fire within us," and of advocating for social justice are top of mind. Students also mentioned learning to make time for self-care and to realize they shape their destiny. Read more about their bright futures.

Nazareth is honored to have as Commencement speaker Goodwell Nzou '15 — whose path from Zimbabwe to Nazareth College to breakthrough brain research all stemmed from a snake bite.

Nzou was born and raised in Zimbabwe, where wading into a river to cool off at age 11 resulted in a bite from a puff adder, one of Africa's deadliest snakes. With no transportation, his family pushed him in a wheelbarrow more than 12 miles to the nearest clinic. The lack of adequate medical care anywhere near his village eventually led to his leg needing to be amputated at a hospital nearly 250 miles from home.

Once Nzou got out of the hospital, "I started studying," he told Nazareth's Connections magazine in 2020. "I wanted what had happened to have a meaning. My experience with western medicine made me want to be part of a bigger world, a world where one day I may be like the doctors who saved my life."

He excelled at a high school for students with disabilities — and as a percussionist playing the marimba. A film called Music by Prudence about his internationally recognized band, Liyana, won the 2010 Academy Award for best documentary (short subject).

It was that film's producer who told Nzou to apply to Nazareth, where she had given a talk. "I knew that if she remembered that small of a school, it must have been something unique," Nzou said, recounting that story.

After just one year as a chemistry major at Nazareth, Nzou was able to do research with Nazareth faculty to improve a drug to enable doctors to test for HIV more easily. If he'd gone to a larger university, Nzou said, he would only have been washing beakers. He also found a home in the Nazareth music community as part of the Nazareth Percussion Ensemble.

As a sophomore, he landed a three-month internship at the University of California, San Diego. "It was a big deal for me to get the opportunity to work in a prestigious lab that early," he said.

After Nazareth, Nzou went on to Wake Forest University and earned a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biosciences in 2019. As a doctoral student, he contributed to a breakthrough 3-D model of the brain that holds promise for neurodegenerative drug discovery, specifically for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis.

Goodwell did his postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, where he investigated treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. He is currently a senior field clinical scientist for Abbott, where he is managing clinical trials for neuromodulation and deep brain stimulation.

For details about the ceremonies: Commencement 2021

See Nazareth social media posts and video well-wishes from families: Commencement Social Feed

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Julie Long | Chief PR Officer, | (585) 781-8186 |

Nazareth College’s academic strengths cross an unusually broad spectrum of 60 majors, including education, health and human services, management, the fine arts, music, theater, math and science, foreign languages, and the liberal arts. The coeducational, religiously independent, classic campus in a charming suburb of Rochester, N.Y., challenges and supports 2,300 undergrads and 700 graduate students. Nazareth is recognized nationally for its Fulbright global student scholars and commitment to civic engagement. Rigorous programs, an uncommon arts and sciences core, experiential learning, career skills, and a global focus prepare graduates for not just one job, but for their life’s work.

Class of 2021 students capture photos on campus as they prepare for Commencement on May 14-15.