University virtual commencement ceremonies celebrate graduating class


Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois

A person holds a graduation cap in the air at Memorial Stadium.

By Aliza Majid, Staff Writer

The virtual commencement took place May 16 for the graduating class of 2020. The University-wide celebration lasted around 15 minutes, with speeches from a range of speakers. 

“The University of Illinois premiered a commencement celebration video and interactive website to congratulate the Class of 2020,” said Laura Barr, senior director of special events. “Because we could not celebrate together in the same space, our goal was to create an experience that the Illinois family could celebrate together at the same time.”

Students had mixed reactions toward this video the University presented to the recent graduates. 

“I mean, it was definitely a little like insulting, that it was only like a fifteen minute thing and they skipped over a lot of the things that happened in the actual in-person commencement,” said Jason Meier, an LAS graduate.

Emphasis was put on the department convocation as graduates hoped to receive some sort of recognition for their accomplishments. 

“The department one was live and I think that that was important. It made it just a little bit closer and a little bit more similar to the real ceremony. Whereas in our university, obviously it was not so,” said Spencer Hulsey, a LAS graduate.

Various departments within the University created virtual convocation videos to accommodate the new regulations for this graduation.

“This unfortunate event has happened and it happened to align with their graduation time. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything less than what we would have done in person,” said Patrick Snyder, coordinator of undergraduate recruiting, research and placement. “We want to still maintain, to the best of our ability, the best student connection between us and the department.”

The computer science department had designed a hybrid event for their graduates that allowed students to chat during the YouTube premiere of the prerecorded video to ensure everything would go smoothly. 

“It was a short time to pull all things together actually, acquire the video and get all the other components together. If this is going to be a regular thing, I think we would have a lot more time to work on it,” said Colin Robertson, associate director of communications.

The students in the computer science program were able to have their names recognized on a name board during the video, which wasn’t done during the in-person convocation for the department. 

“A nice aspect of what we were doing was being able to give the recognition to the name board that we had of all of the students associated with us on our degree programs. We do not usually have an opportunity to personally provide names,” said Elsa L. Gunter, director of undergraduate programs.

The physics and astronomy convocation, on the other hand, was held on a zoom call with all the participants, which allowed students to take part in a live ceremony and parallel the real thing as much as possible.

“Convocation, though, for the physics and astronomy department I definitely felt like, for the most part, all the speeches were more or less the same as they would be,” Meier said. “But like they definitely glanced over actually recognizing us as students, there was a list of names at the beginning. Like I would say, at the very least, they should have read everyone’s name individually, even if it was a ten second thing.”

The University sent graduates a note of congratulations from Chancellor Jones along with a photo frame magnet and Illini colored confetti. They also look forward to scheduling an in-person commencement ceremony on campus as soon as it is safe to gather again, according to Barr.

“It symbolizes the end of four years of hard work and a beginning of a different kind of hard work. It is an incredibly symbolic moment that you could just say goodbye to your friends and you know that everybody there understands what it means to be there,” Hulsey said.

[email protected]