At Hooding, advanced-degree recipients celebrate a ‘pinnacle moment’ in their lives as scholars

Written by
Denise Valenti, Office of Communications
May 30, 2023

Princeton’s recent Ph.D. and master’s degree recipients were honored May 29 at the 2023 Hooding and Recognition Ceremony for completing their advanced degrees during this past academic year. The graduates gathered under sunny skies on Cannon Green, surrounded by family, friends and the many supporters of their years of effort.

“This ceremony is a welcome opportunity for all of us — your families, friends, teachers, mentors and colleagues — to recognize the dedication, effort and intellect that you have brought to your work here,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “Your graduate degree is a testament to your talent and commitment as well as a mark of true excellence in scholarship and research.”

Hooding Ceremony

Xiaohan (Amanda) Du (left), a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, is hooded by Craig Arnold (center), the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and vice dean for innovation. Graduate School Dean Rodney Priestley (seated left) and Chief Marshal for the University Convocations Sandra Bermann (far right), look on. Photo by Nicole Guglielmo

The ceremony was the first Hooding and Recognition presided over by new Graduate School Dean Rodney Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Priestley urged the graduates to pause and savor the moment.

“This is a pinnacle moment for you in your life,” he said. “A moment you have been working for years to attain. A moment that will be part of your life story. We don’t get too many of these. Just stop and take it all in because, yes, you did it!”

At the ceremony, 178 master’s degree recipients were recognized by name as they walked across the stage. The 234 Ph.D. recipients in attendance were hooded either by faculty advisers, including Priestley, or by Sandra Bermann, chief marshal for the University Convocations and the Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and professor of comparative literature. One-hundred-and-thirty-seven faculty members were in attendance.

The colorful gowns and hoods worn as part of traditional academic regalia trace their history to medieval Europe, where heavy woolen robes were necessities in the cold halls of universities. Hoods embody an important symbolism and distinguish the wearer both by rank and academic discipline. Each hood is bordered by a velvet band in the color assigned to the academic discipline in which the degree is granted, and the lining bears the degree-granting university’s own colors — at Princeton, orange with a black chevron.

“Your hood signifies the knowledge you have gained and the skills you have developed,” Priestley said, as well as the advanced degree recipients’ research, which contributes “something genuinely new to the body of human knowledge.”

Priestley acknowledged the many tasks and responsibilities advanced degree candidates take on to earn their credentials. He also acknowledged the many people required to support such an achievement.

Of the faculty advisers in attendance, he said, “Their presence reminds us that the journey to an advanced degree is only possible with the encouragement and guidance of a supportive faculty,” he said. “There are also many others who help your get to this pinnacle moment. Your research advisors, deans, directors of graduate studies, University staff, fellow students, and especially your family members and friends.”

A journey of scholarship and mentorship

A key part of the journey to completing an advanced degree is the graduates’ relationship with their mentors, especially dissertation advisers.

“It’s one of the best things about being a professor, quite honestly — to see your students progress,” said Tera Hunter, the Edwards Professor of American History, and professor of history and African American studies. “When you’re working with a graduate student, you really get to see them grow and develop into their own, fully fledged, scholarly selves. It’s quite gratifying to be a part of that along with them.”

Hunter hooded Shelby Sinclair, who earned a Ph.D. in history. “I feel very honored to have had the opportunity to work with her,” Sinclair said of Hunter. “I know that not everybody has a chance to have a close learning relationship with somebody who’s basically a titan in the field. So to have that moment on the stage where you’re getting hooded by this icon, it’s very moving.”

Sinclair said Hunter went “above and beyond” in advising her through her research about the experiences of Haitian women during the United States occupation of Haiti, which took place from 1915 to 1934. “I think it’s a real testament to the strength of her methodological expertise that she was able to advise my dissertation and support me through the research process and the writing process, even though she’s not an expert on Haiti specifically,” Sinclair said. “Her general understanding of the best way to approach the study of Black women’s lives around the world around did not fall short.”

Sinclair said Hunter was especially helpful and supportive in helping her move her research forward for more than 18 months during which some needed archives were closed due to COVID-19. The two women also bonded while teaching online during the pandemic.

Many of this year’s graduates and their advisers spoke of the impact that COVID-19 had on their work together.

“This was such a difficult time because all these people were trying to do their theses while they got slammed by COVID” and by political upheaval in the country, said Christopher Chyba, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor in International Affairs and professor of astrophysical sciences, who advised four of this year’s graduates. “It was just a lot for people to have to navigate through.”

Chyba’s advisee, Erin Flowers, who earned a Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences, said one of the reasons she chose Chyba as her thesis adviser — well before the pandemic — was his approach to mentorship. “He’s a really friendly person and has this wonderful philosophy of life where you’re a human first and a scientist or researcher second,” she said. “Chris was always very supportive of me doing stuff outside of work. When COVID happened, it became apparent that there are a lot of global, external factors that can impact your research.”

Flowers said being hooded by Chyba was “bittersweet.” “It marks the end of an era, working with him as a student one-on-one,” she said. 

Chyba commended Flowers not only for her research on the atmosphere of Titan — one of Saturn’s moons that has important similarities to Earth — which earned her a role as a member of NASA’s Dragonfly mission team, but also for her teaching and leadership awards on campus.

“I’m sure that whatever comes next for her will also involve a substantial focus on social issues, as well as on her science,” Chyba said. “In that sense, I feel especially gratified to help people like Erin who are on their way, because every one of them is going to be making the world better for all of us. As I said in my toast to her, in addition to being a terrific scientist, she earned her Ph.D. to help heal the world.”

Advanced-degree recipients were awarded their degrees at Princeton’s 276th Commencement on Tuesday, May 30. The 679 graduate degrees granted during the academic year were:

  • 445 Doctor of Philosophy
  • 36 Master of Architecture
  • 56 Master of Engineering
  • 29 Master in Finance
  • 76 Master in Public Affairs
  • 20 Master in Public Policy
  • 17 Master of Science in Engineering

The 2023 recipients of the Graduate Mentoring Awards were honored during the Hooding ceremony. Presented by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the awards annually recognize faculty members for their exceptional work as mentors to graduate students at Princeton.

This year’s winners are Elizabeth Davis, associate professor of anthropology; Luc Deike, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the High Meadows Environmental Institute; Kinohi Nishikawa, associate professor of English and African American studies; and Lindy McBride, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

Eisgruber spoke of the community the graduates will now join and the role Graduate School alumni play in leadership roles throughout America and the world. “I hope that whatever you do and wherever your career takes you, you will find ways to communicate the value of scholarship, research and teaching to the broader public,” Eisgruber said. “Your membership in this alumni community is at once an accomplishment and a call to action. I know that each of you will find your own path of service to the nation and to humanity.”

Priestley echoed those sentiments. “When I look out at the more than 500 of you, I see a remarkable community leaving this University with confidence and a commitment to serve the nation and all of humanity,” Priestley said. “So, right now, I do not see complex challenges. I see a world of possibilities. And, for that, thank you, our graduates, for filling me with optimism.”

The Hooding and Recognition Ceremony is available for viewing online. End-of-the-year activities began with the Baccalaureate service on Sunday, May 28, and Class Day on May 29. Graduation activities conclude with Commencement on Tuesday, May 30.