Humphrey School Commencement: Perseverance and Commitment Guide Graduates Through Tumultuous Year

May 17, 2021
Head shot of Dean Laura Bloomberg
Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg congratulated the School's graduates during it virtual commencement ceremony on May 15, 2021.

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs honored 179 graduates Saturday for completing their master’s and doctoral degrees in the midst of one of the most difficult times in the School’s 40-year history. 

More than 500 students, family, friends, and faculty tuned in for two live video-streamed ceremonies that replaced the traditional in-person commencement, canceled for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ceremonies for the School’s six master’s degree programs and its doctoral program were  complete with an inspiring keynote speech, remarks from students, and graduates’ names read one by one as they were recognized. Download a copy of the program.

Many of these graduates experienced the vast majority of their master’s degree instruction and research online, not able to set foot into the Humphrey School building since March 2020. In addition to the pandemic, students dealt with the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the protests spawned from that incident, and the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. 

“Graduates, you've done this with a tremendous amount of determination,” said Dean Laura Bloomberg. “You've navigated the upheaval, the unrest, and most certainly, the unfinished public policy business of this School, this community, and the nation with a remarkable sense of determination. You have persevered, and that says a lot about what you are capable of achieving.”

Student speakers, chosen to represent their degree programs, acknowledged the challenges of the past year but also recognized that they are stronger and more prepared because of them. 

“We’ve graduated in a phenomenally difficult time,” said Anna Crouch, a Master of Urban and Regional Planning graduate. “And yet, instead of shrinking in inaction, I’ve been surrounded and inspired by a cohort of people who have stepped up to take care of each other and our communities with whatever we’ve had available to us. We’ve approached our classes, each other, and even our many group projects with grace, kindness, and an eye towards the possibility of a more just world.” 

“We may not have had the chance to travel and get on-the-ground experience [outside of the School], but it’s possible we learned even more important lessons,” said Aimee Muhire, a graduate in the Master of Development Practice program. “Plans will always change and evolve,  we can’t accomplish anything alone, and little things can make a big difference. There’s nothing more ‘real world’ than that.” 

Head shot of Keesha Gaskins-Nathan
Commencement keynote speaker Keesha Gaskins-Nathan

Keesha Gaskins-Nathan, director of the Democratic Practice–United States program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, used her keynote speech to encourage the graduates to rise to the challenges of these turbulent times. 

Gaskins-Nathan, who grew up in Minneapolis, said she “watched my hometown burn from a thousand miles away” during the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last summer, and then she wondered how Minneapolis would recover in ways that are more equitable and community focused. 

“And now, Humphrey School Class of 2021, it’s time for you to answer these questions. The demands of this moment and the opportunities are humbling. There’s not a better time or a more necessary time to enter the world as a problem solver,” she said, advising them to “stay upset” at the inequities they see. 

“It’s OK to be upset. It’s appropriate to be animated by injustice. Indifference to the pain of others, and indifference to our own pain, is what got us to this place. It’s time for you to design solutions for the future.” 

Kania Johnson, a Master of Public Policy recipient who was also recognized by her fellow graduates with the Student Leadership Award, spoke of their commitment to care for the community and for each other.

“Many of us will go on to work and serve in all kinds of spaces and places. And it’s important we know why. We found ourselves here because we wished to create a better world; a world of abundance and liberation. We also found ourselves here at the Humphrey School because we had a community of folks lifting us up and holding us accountable to be the best version of ourselves,” Johnson said. “So I hope you continue being critical with an immense amount of care. I hope you all choose to fight and protect the unique gifts of our community and our world. I hope you all choose light, justice, and accountability, no matter the work you do or the places you go. And I hope you all honor this journey for everything it has taught you.”

The winners of the School’s 2021 student academic and leadership awards were also announced at commencement. See the list below. 

In her charge to the class, Bloomberg encouraged this year’s graduates to take care of themselves and each other, and to celebrate their remarkable accomplishments in an unprecedented year. 

“When you look back at your time at the Humphrey School, I imagine you will reflect on the community that you have built with your colleagues, your classmates, and your peers, as a community steeped in a fierce sense of social justice. It is a community that has grit and determination and compassion and courage,” Bloomberg said. “You are resolute in pursuit of your goals. You are impressive, indeed. We at the Humphrey School are incredibly proud of you, and I hope you are proud of yourselves today. You should be.”


  • American Institute of Certified Planners Award - Erika Shepard
  • Richard S. Bolan Urban and Regional Planning Fellowship - Timothy Shebesta
  • Edward A. Burdick Legislative Award - Aaron Williamson 
  • Gary M. DeCramer Public Leadership Award - Eric Howard
  • Diversity Paper Award - Amy Dorman
  • Diversity Capstone Award - Doug Benton, Addison Coley, Cody Flannery, Benny Manibog, and Sarah Paulus
  • Robert Einsweiler Award - Robbie Seltzer
  • Award For Excellence In Global Policy - Trent Schoenborn
  • Gross Family Management And Leadership Awards - Individual Paper: Laura Paynter. Group Paper: David Gottfried, Kate Ingersoll and Bailey Sutter.
  • Jernberg Award for Student Life - Planning Student Organization
  • Lukermann Award - Anna Crouch
  • Master of Public Affairs Paper Awards (2) - Ashley Dziuk and Corey Dawson
  • Lloyd B. Short Award for Best Master’s Paper -  Elika Beck, Mardi Crean, Samuel Estes, Madeline Geitz, and Emilio Vega
  • STEP Impact Award - Jamie Stallman and Lauren Fisher
  • STEP Capstone Award - Dillon Cummins, Caroline Ketcham, Erika Shepard, Jed Hanson 
  • Student Leadership Award - Kania Johnson
  • Instructor of the Year - Angie Fertig
  • Core Course Instructor of the Year - Angie Fertig
  • Teaching Assistant of the Year - Anna Thompson

Watch the MPP and PhD ceremony 

Watch the MDP, MHR, MPA, MS-STEP, and MURP ceremony 


Note: With our greatest apologies, MPP graduate Isaac Russell and PhD graduate Xinyi Wu were not included in the virtual slideshows. They have been added to the uploaded recording of the commencement ceremony.