A virtual commencement for a remote class

David Socha
David Socha. Marc Studer

Perhaps more than any other graduating class at the University of Washington Bothell, the Class of 2020 can feel a sense of accomplishment for just making it to graduation.

Since mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic forced students, faculty and staff into remote operations. The 29th annual Commencement was a virtual ceremony that participants attended through the screens of their computers and mobile devices.

It was safe and healthy but not the Commencement anyone had imagined, Chancellor Wolf Yeigh said. Yet, faculty, staff, families and friends could not have been more proud.

Virtual now, see you later

Commencement screenshot
Commencement screenshot

More than 900 graduates took part in the virtual ceremony. And nearly 2,100 students in all had their degrees conferred June 13 — 1,908 bachelor’s and 182 master’s. Before the ceremony, each registered graduate received a celebration box that, among other gifts, included a free, one-year membership to the UW Alumni Association. The physical diplomas will arrive in the mail later this summer.

Yeigh also promised this year’s graduates that they will have the opportunity for a traditional, in-person experience in front of cheering family and friends — complete with “Pomp and Circumstance,” crossing the stage for a handshake and diploma holder, and turning their tassels from the right to the left side of the mortarboard. All 2020 graduates are invited to come back together next June in a combined Commencement with the Class of 2021 at T-Mobile Park. If they can’t make it, they’ll be welcome to “walk” in 2022, 2023 or 2024.

Combined campus ceremony

Wolf Yeigh
Chancellor Wolf Yeigh on the Purple Carpet.

The UW Bothell ceremony was part of the UW Commencement, in which more than 18,000 new graduates from all three campuses were recognized. Thousands of graduates and their families in more than 40 countries watched online.

President Ana Mari Cauce and other officials, including Yeigh, delivered remarks live from Sylvan Grove on the UW campus in Seattle. In front of the original four columns that once adorned the UW’s first building in downtown Seattle, deans and chancellors presented graduates by school, and the chair of the UW Board of Regents conferred degrees.

Students were represented online by their photos. David Socha, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, virtually carried the UW Bothell banner and led rows of photos through an image of Sylvan Grove to the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

A few words were repeated over and over in posts, presentations, interviews and speeches: perseverance, resilience, adaptability and pride.

Cauce said the Class of 2020 would have “extra steel in your spine from what you endured this year.”

In the Purple Carpet show leading up to the ceremony, Yeigh told interviewers, “This has been a difficult year for everyone, especially our graduating seniors, but through it all they persevered and made things happen. They got through a very difficult spring quarter.

“Take the moment to enjoy, and we’ll have our pomp and circumstance in person next year,” Yeigh said.

From UW Bothell, with love

Each of the UW Bothell graduates in the ceremony video had a moment on the screen with their name, school, degree, photo and a comment, usually of thanks to family and supporters. Individuals also could be found in the “Grad Moment” search on the webpage.

Virtual commencement graphic

On the UW Bothell virtual Commencement webpage, members of the UW Bothell community offered congratulations and good luck to the Class of 2020.

Student body president Shugla Kakar (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Health Studies ‘20) also invited her fellow classmates to take part in the in-person ceremony in 2021.

From the Alumni Council, Mina Hooshangi (IAS ’12) said, “I bet when you thought about your college graduation you had a different picture in your mind than what our reality is today, but nevertheless, you made it. You did it. I’m so incredibly proud of you. Go out and change the world for the better. You are our future. And, welcome to the alumni family.”

Keynote speaker Abigail Echo-Hawk, chief research officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board (American Studies ’07, Master of Arts in Policy Studies ’09) said, “I’m so impressed by the work you have done and the work you will continue to do in these uncertain times. I know you have the strength of those who came before you and those who will come after you.”

In the future, when people recall the pandemic, they’ll say the Class of 2020 was adaptable and determined. It proved that a community is bigger than a physical space.

T-Mobile Park
The once and future home of UW Bothell Commencement. Marc Studer

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