Commencement 2021 is triumphant conclusion to a year like no other

49th Commencement of the UB School of Architecture and Planning

The first portion of commencement

by Rachel Teaman

Published May 26, 2021

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On May 14th, a distinguished group of 264 architects, urban planners, environmental designers and real estate developers joined the ranks of UB alumni as the School of Architecture and Planning convened its 49th Commencement ceremony on UB’s North Campus.

Nearly 400 guests, including graduates and their families and friends, gathered for the momentous occasion in UB’s Commencement Pavilion, constructed specifically to host the university’s outdoor ceremonies amidst the ongoing pandemic. The in-person celebration was an exultant conclusion to one of the most disruptive and challenging years in the history of the School.

“We are thrilled to be able to celebrate together, in person, with our graduates and their families, after more than a year of separation,” Dean Robert Shibley said in his remarks to graduates, who were assembled spatially distanced in cap, gown and mask.

President Satish K. Tripathi, presided over the ceremony and conferred degrees for the School’s graduate and undergraduate programs, including the BS in Architecture, BA in Environmental Design, MS in Real Estate Development, Master of Urban Planning, and Master of Architecture. Graduates participated both in-person and virtually, with families and friends who were unable to attend also joining the ceremony's livestream.  

Speaking to the current moment, Shibley noted that the Class of 2021 enters the world of practice carrying great responsibilities: “As our next generation of leaders in the world-making professions, you will guide us through a seismic shift in the way we think, design, plan and build, as we shape a better world for all.”

Photos from the 49th Commencement of the School of Architecture and Planning, by Onion Studio.

Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, addressed graduates via video from San Antonio, Texas.

Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, addressed graduates via video from San Antonio, Texas.

Delivering an inspiring keynote address to graduates was Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Reflecting on the connection between physical place and social change, he reminded graduates of their agency as designers, planners and builders of cities and regions across all scales.

“When I was Secretary of HUD I was struck by the affect that the physical environment had on people's lives. I came to think of housing as the essential platform for every social objective we wanted to pursue. Education, work, better incomes, family health, and family stability all have to happen in a physical place.”

Cisneros, who remains a national leader in the affordable housing, municipal investment and community development space, is also a former four-term mayor of San Antonio, Texas – the first Hispanic to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city. As secretary of HUD under the Clinton administration, Cisneros is credited with initiating the revitalization of many of the nation’s public housing developments and formulating policies that contributed to achieving the nation’s highest ever homeownership rate.

“We're going to need people like you working in underserved neighborhoods, building schools and building clinics and building transit stations, revitalizing neighborhoods and bringing people together across ethnic and income lines. Indeed I would say you've chosen one of the few professions that is most likely to make this kind of difference.”

- Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Cisneros, who holds degrees in urban planning and public administration, added that architects, planners and real estate developers are adept “synthesizers,” well-equipped to develop creative, collaborative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, from climate change and shortages in affordable housing to gaps in health care access and economic opportunity.

“We're going to need people like you working in underserved neighborhoods, building schools and building clinics and building transit stations, revitalizing neighborhoods and bringing people together across ethnic and income lines. Indeed I would say you've chosen one of the few professions that is most likely to make this kind of difference.” Watch Secretary Cisneros's speech via the livestream link above, or read the text of his full speech

The School of Architecture and Planning presented several awards to the top graduating students, recognizing innovative graduate research, the highest GPA, and dedicated service to the profession.

Shibley also presented the 2021 Dean’s Medal, the highest award bestowed by the School, to three professional leaders in recognition of their globally impactful scholarship and practice. Past recipients include such notable figures as Futurists R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller and Magda Cordell McHale, architect Toshiko Mori, environmental leader Bill McKibben, and artist and landscape architect Walter Hood.

Receiving posthumous awards were former faculty members Michael Brill from the Department of Architecture (1969-2002) and Ibrahim “Himi” Jammal of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (1969-2001). A third award was presented to Dan Rockhill (MArch ’76), professor of architecture with the University of Kansas and director of its nationally award-winning design-build program, Studio 804.

Awards and honors

Students who demonstrated the highest levels of achievement and innovation in their studies were recognized during the ceremony. (See our full list of our 2021 student awards). 

Urban Planning Awards

MUP Best Professional Project: 
Lanika Sanders

MUP Best Thesis Award:
Micaela Lipman 

American Institute of Certified Planners Award:  
Lanika Sanders

Architecture Awards

Alpha Rho Chi Medal:
Rosanna Valencia

Architecture Research Centers Consortium/King Student Medal:  
Anna Mytcul

Henry Adams Gold Medal:
Morgan Lynn Mansfield

2021 Dean's Medal Recipients

The highest award bestowed by the school, the Dean's Medal honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the professions of architecture and planning and to the betterment of our world through inspirational practice, scholarship and leadership.

Graduates of the School of Architecture and Planning celebrate in front of Hayes Hall on UB's South Campus. See more of our proud graduates celebrating their big day on social media, via our Instagram channel.

Graduates of the School of Architecture and Planning celebrate in front of Hayes Hall on UB's South Campus. See more of our proud graduates celebrating their big day on social media, via our Instagram channel.

UB architecture alumnae Elaine Chow (BPS ’98) welcomed members of the Class of 2021 to the School of Architecture and Planning alumni family citing the particular strengths of those graduating in this historic time: resilience, adaptability, and creativity.

“You have shown you can adapt. Things that you did not think you would ever do, you have done. The knowledge of what you are all capable of when the path is not as direct or straightforward as when initially set out is what you should carry with you in the future.”

“When you reminisce, remember the discoveries you made about yourself, your friends and your UB community,” said Chow, adding that her return to the School four years ago to teach has been a “great privilege.”

Recognizing the wide circle of support that carries students through their studies, Dean Shibley invited family members and those faculty members in attendance to stand to receive the rousing applause and gratitude of graduating students.

In closing, Shibley struck a note of hope, referencing the words of authors Chris Jones and Joanna Macy from their book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy: “I hope you can also greet each day with gratitude for the gifts of life on this planet, grief for the violence we do to such gifts, and active hope for the future.”

Additional UB and School officials participating in the ceremony included Lee Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management; John Wood, interim vice provost for international education; Daniel B. Hess, professor and chair of urban and regional planning; Korydon Smith, professor and chair of architecture; Joyce Hwang, associate professor and associate chair of architecture; Martha Bohm, associate professor of architecture and associate dean for academic affairs; and Samina Raja, professor of urban planning and associate dean for research and inclusive excellence.

Read our full package of year-end coverage: