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Amid COVID-19, graduation ceremonies go online

A photo illustration of graduation ceremonies held online. (Image: Ekaphon Maneechot, via Shutterstock

Graduations across the state are moving online as COVID-19 continues to upend everyone’s lives.

Several universities have committed to having an in-person graduation at a later date but in the meantime, they are doing the best they can by staging virtual celebrations.

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, as one example, is having a watch party on Facebook Live May 22 for the nearly 150 students who are graduating. The event will include recorded speeches and pictures of the graduates with their pets.

Students plan to recite together over Facebook Live the Veterinarian’s Oath promising to use their skills and knowledge wisely.

“We’re covering as much as possible of what people were hoping to accomplish with their commencement in person,” said Ricky Walther, one of the graduates and one of three class presidents at the school who is helping plan the event.

Walther, of Ranch Cordova, said it is a huge disappointment to most students to have their four years of intense work at veterinary school end without the traditional ceremony and celebrations.   But they are glad that they will still get to have some acknowledgement and enjoy the occasion together. The students plan to recite together over Facebook Live the Veterinarian’s Oath promising to use their skills and knowledge wisely. There will also be a presentation of some awards.

On the good side, Walther said, all of his friends and family who are interested in seeing the ceremony will be able to view it online. In the traditional in-person ceremony, tickets are limited and not everybody can attend. The graduates hope to gather in the fall if possible, for an in-person gathering.

“A lot of students really feel like they’re losing something.” — Robert Nelson

The veterinary school is one of six online commencements planned this year at UC Davis, said Julia Ann Easley, a university spokesperson. Ten ceremonies had been scheduled before the state’s lockdown order went into effect. The university hopes to invite students back for in-person graduations sometime “in the calendar year,” Easley said.

At Sacramento State University, President Robert Nelsen recently recorded his commencement speech that will be shown online to students. “The other day, they took me outside in my robes and I gave the graduation speech to squirrels and turkeys,” he said with a laugh.

He is happy with how it turned out and is glad that he can do something to honor students for their achievements. “A lot of students really feel like they’re losing something,” he said. “They’ve been going to school for four, sometimes six years and they’ve been waiting for this day.”

Students have still ordered caps and gowns and many have come to take pictures on campus anyway, he said.

The university will hold its official 2020 graduation in 2021 two days before the 2021 ceremony at the usual spot of Golden 1 Center, an indoor arena with a capacity for 19,000, Nelsen said.

At the university where 74 percent of students are the first people in their family to graduate from college, the ceremony is too important to ignore.

UC Merced is also hoping to arrange an in-person ceremony at some point but needs eight weeks to plan it, said Ed Klotzbier, vice chancellor of external relations.

For now, the university also is cobbling together a mix of recorded speeches and songs for an online live event May 16. The graduates will be able to hear their names read online.

At the university where 74 percent of students are the first people in their family to graduate from college, the ceremony is too important to ignore, Klotzbier said.  In normal times, the event draws large crowds of family members including grandparents and aunts and uncles. “It’s a special day,” he said.

The ceremony will be live-streamed on YouTube and UC Merced’s website with links posted on Twitter and other social media sites. The recording of the graduation ceremony will be available in both English and Spanish.

Each graduation ceremony the university hosts typically draws 10,000 people.

Sierra College, a community college in Rocklin, is honoring its 2,750 graduates this year with a video that will be posted May 22. It will celebrate “the accomplishments, diversity and resilience of our students during these extraordinary times,” said Josh Morgan, a spokesperson for the college.

The college will also host and in-person joint ceremony for 2020 and 2021 graduates in spring 2021.

California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock hopes to postpone in-person ceremonies but has not committed to any date. But the university won’t have one ceremony for two different graduating classes, said Jennifer Humphrey, assistant vice president for operations, planning and assessment. There simply isn’t enough space available. Each graduation ceremony the university hosts typically draws 10,000 people.

The university ruled out having a virtual ceremony on Zoom or another website because the students and families didn’t want that. The college, will however, have a website where students can post photos and faculty members can upload congratulatory videos. The website can then be shared with students’ family and friends.

An alumni group is marking the occasion by distributing 500 graduate gift boxes with university T-shirts, license plate frames, lawn signs and other fun goodies to mark the occasion.

Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn said in a statement that she looks forward to when the students can gather again in person. “As Warriors, we rise to every challenge and our graduating students exemplify that strength as they complete their degrees, and continue to pursue their dreams even in the midst of this unprecedented situation,” she said.

 


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