Museum Celebrates Fourth Commencement

by AMNH on

Education posts

On Monday, the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School held its fourth graduation ceremony under the iconic blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life for five recipients of the Ph.D.-degree in Comparative Biology and 15 recipients of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree.

Graduates, families, Museum officials, and honorees gather under the blue whale model for a commencement ceremony.
Graduates and guests seated beneath the Museum's famed blue whale.
@ AMNH/M. Shanley

In addition to the graduating students, the ceremony included the conferral of two honorary degrees. U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.,—who had presided over the conferral of the MAT degrees at the school’s first commencement ceremony in 2013, when he was serving as New York State Education Commissioner—was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa in recognition of his efforts to promote educational advancement. 

"I want to celebrate, in particular, the Museum’s commitment to issues of equity,” King told the graduating class. "When we look across the STEM fields, we have to acknowledge as a country that we see an artifact of our inequities—we see that too often, low-income students and students of color do not have access to rich opportunities in the sciences. This program is about changing that reality."

In a historic first, Cuban biologist Gilberto Silva Taboada—a world-renowned expert on Caribbean mammals who has collaborated with Museum scientists for decades and is curator emeritus at the Cuban National Museum of Natural History—received the Doctor of Science degree honoris causa in recognition of his distinguished career and extraordinary contributions to science. 

"I am now approaching my 90th birthday, and have been studying Cuban mammals for over 60 years,” Silva Taboada said at the commencement, adding that he saw the recognition as part of “an enduring link between many American and Cuban naturalists.”

Earlier this year, the Museum signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Cuban National Museum of Natural History to collaborate on research, exhibitions, and education. The first effort under this collaboration is the presentation of the bilingual exhibition ¡Cuba!, which is opening November 21.

This year’s Ph.D. graduates studied with Museum scientists to carry out extraordinary research on a wide variety of subjects, including parasitic wasps, the respiratory systems of birds and dinosaurs, biodiversity in frogs, and much more. Their degree conferrals bring the number of Museum Ph.D. graduates to 20.

The 15 MAT graduates join 50 alumni of the program already teaching Earth science in New York schools.