The 156th Annual Arizona Commencement for the University of Arizona’s Class of 2020 was the most unique one yet, taking place virtually amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on May 15 at 6 p.m.
“Isn’t this awkward?” UA President Dr. Robert Robbins opened the virtual commencement, seemingly echoing how everyone was feeling while graduating from home. He opened with talking about the university’s continued fight against the coronavirus as well as recognizing the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui tribes, whose land the university was built on.
The commencement then switched over to remarks by the Arizona Board of Regent’s Chairman Larry Penley, Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Sydney Hess and Graduate and Professional Student Council President Marie Teemant.
There were seven awards and medals given out to graduating students, including the Merrill P. Freeman Medals, Robie Gold Medals, Robert Logan Nugent Awards and the Provost Award. The Merrill P. Freeman Medals were awarded to Ahmad Shahin and Marcos Gomez Ambriz, the Robie Gold Medals awarded to Crystal Raygoza and Tony Viola IV, the Robert Logan Nugent Awards to Lily Keane Chavez and Meucci Ilunga and the Provost Award to Lauren Easter.
The achievements were shown being given to each student by their loved ones at home. One particularly touching moment was recipient Tony Viola IV placing his medal on his grandmother, whom he shared was the first person in his family to participate in a formal school setting. Another was the Provost Award winner, Lauren Easter, being presented the award by her partner and son.
After the achievements were awarded remotely to their respective recipients, the keynote speaker was introduced. The keynote speaker, Alison Levine, was the team captain of the first women’s Everest expedition, has skied to both North and South poles and is an alumna of the 1987 UA class.
The foundation of her speech was her journey climbing Mount Everest, using her “Cliff Notes” of the experience to highlight the most important lessons she learned from the truly once-in-a-lifetime expedition. Her main point was resilience, the importance of resilience and the resilience of this class of students whose senior year was cut short by the pandemic crisis.
The ceremony moved to the recognition of the candidates for advanced degrees by Dean of the Graduate College Dr. Andrew Carnie. There were 1,036 Ph.D. candidates, 2,219 master's degree candidates and 521 candidates of professional degrees and special certificates recognized.
Before moving on to the undergraduate degrees, Dean Terry Hunt of the Arizona Honors College recognized the students graduating with honors. Each of the deans or interim deans recognized the undergraduates of their respective colleges that would be receiving their bachelor’s degrees.
The virtual ceremony was completed with Robbins asking the graduates to move their tassels from right to left in the final rite of graduation, saying his final remarks, and followed by the College of Fine Arts students singing “All You Need is Love” over Zoom from their own homes.
The virtual commencement was made as interactive and special as possible, with messages from loved ones to their graduates scrolling along the bottom of the screen for the duration of the broadcast, Zoom chat rooms available for graduating students to interact with each other, as well as a scrolling list of all graduates’ names at the end of the live video. College-specific ceremonies were also held virtually throughout the day.
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