Commencement 2021 celebrations recognize achievement and success after unprecedented year
May 22, 2021, by Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD, RI – President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., this weekend convened the University’s 158th Commencement Ceremonies, his first as Bryant’s chief executive. The year that was like no other culminated in a weekend of four separate ceremonies for the graduates of the Classes of 2020 and 2021. It began with a special forum for seven distinguished honorary degree recipients, all visionary leaders, who shared innovative ideas on what comes next for higher education, healthcare, and society.

Ross Gittell presiding
President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., presides over his first Commencement as Bryant's chief executive

The Graduate school Commencement on Thursday, May 20 kicked off Bryant’s weekend of celebration, which was especially meaningful after the unprecedented challenges of the last year. Read the wrap-up here.

On Saturday May 22, 840 graduates of the Class of 2021 and their families and guests gathered on campus at two ceremonies, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with Bryant faculty, staff, and University leaders to celebrate earning a Bryant degree.

More than 500 members of the Class of 2020 returned to campus on Sunday, May 23 at 11 a.m. to take the long-awaited walk through the Bryant Archway after the pandemic caused their Commencement date last year to be postponed.

“There has probably never been a graduating class more deserving of a Commencement and celebration than the Classes of 2020 and 2021,” said President Gittell. “You have earned your degree under extraordinary circumstances. You successfully responded to unprecedented challenges.”

Rosanne Somerson, President of Rhode Island School of Design, received a Bryant honorary degree
at the ceremony on May 22. 

Honorary degree recipients
In addition to recognizing the achievements of Bryant’s graduates, the University also awarded honorary degrees to distinguished leaders in business, health care, and education at the weekend’s ceremonies. Lisa Bisaccia, former Executive Vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer at CVS Health, Dennis Coleman, JD, Senior Counsel at Ropes and Gray; Paari Gopalakrishnan, MD, '09MBA, Chief Medical Officer at Care New England Kent Hospital; The Honorable Ronald K. Machtley who served as Bryant’s eighth president for 24 years (1996-2020); Debra Paul '85, '94MBA, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fellowship Health Resources; Rosanne Somerson, President of Rhode Island School of Design; and Andrey Zarur, Ph.D., P ’24, Co-founder of GreenLight Biosciences.

Dennis Coleman, JD, '21H, Senior Counsel at Ropes and Gray, delivered the address at the morning
Commencement ceremony after receiving an honorary degree

At the Saturday morning Commencement ceremony, Dennis Coleman ‘21H, Honorary Doctor of Business Administration, delivered a heartfelt and inspiring address telling graduates, “We are depending on you to do the right thing. Our hope is in you 100 percent, whether it's Wall Street or Main Street or Brazil or Mississippi,…We're going to need your leadership, your guidance and your passion to make our communities, our country, and our world a better place.”

Machtley honorary degree
Ronald K. Machtley, '21H, President Emeritus of Bryant University, received an honorary degree
and delivered Commencement addresses Saturday afternoon and Sunday. 

"Everyone has inside of him (or her) a piece of good news."

After receiving his Honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree, Ronald K. Machtley, ‘21H, former president of Bryant University, delivered the Commencement addresses at the Saturday afternoon and Sunday ceremonies.

Machtley commended President Gittell, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty and staff for their commitment and excellence in navigating the everchanging landscape of the global pandemic to keep Bryant open and serving students throughout this difficult year. He also congratulated the graduates for their perseverance as they adapted and innovated to complete their education. 

With hope as the guiding theme throughout his remarks, Machtley shared inspiration from Anne Frank, who, despite her trials and suffering during the Holocaust of World War II, recognized that “Everyone has inside of him (or her) a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

“So, graduates go into the world with your head held high with this new degree in your hand with optimism and determination," said Machtley. "And, remember the good news!”

Debra Paul
Honorary degree recipient Debra Paul '85, '94MBA, President and Chief Executive Officer
of Fellowship Health Resources
Andrey Zarur
Honorary degree recipient Andrey Zarur, Ph.D., P ’24, (L) Co-founder of GreenLight Biosciences.


For 158 years, Bryant University has been at the forefront of delivering an exceptional education that anticipates the future and prepares students to be innovative leaders of character in a changing world. Located on a contemporary campus in Smithfield, R.I., Bryant enrolls approximately 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students from 38 states and 49 countries. Bryant is recognized as a leader in international education and regularly receives top rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Money, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wall Street Journal, College Factual, and Barron'sVisit

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