Thousands of students, families, friends and faculty tuned into a 30-minute Facebook livestream Saturday afternoon to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2020.
This particular commencement ceremony was unlike any other in Georgetown University history. With campus shuttered and much of the country on lockdown, the Georgetown community, like many of its peer institutions, was forced to celebrate graduation virtually. Instead of receiving degrees on Healy Lawn with decorum and applause, new graduates celebrated behind computer screens and will receive their diplomas by mail. Nevertheless, some graduating seniors felt the virtual ceremony did well to commemorate the momentous milestone, however unusual the circumstances.
The 2020 Conferral of Degrees in Course ceremony featured speeches from university administrators and brief sermons from Rabbi Rachel Gartner and Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J. From their respective homes, university administrators lauded the accomplishments of the graduating class. The celebration also included a five-minute video montage of well-known alumni congratulating the latest class of graduates.
The online ceremony allowed graduating seniors to celebrate their Georgetown careers with a personal touch, according to newly minted graduate Siona Sharma (SFS ’20)
“We all had the opportunity to feel recognized from the University and still personalize our celebrations,” Sharma wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It was neat to scroll through Instagram and see how my classmates had chosen to celebrate the virtual events, whether in company of their families or outside on Healy Lawn with friends, adding humor and fun to the day by dressing up and touting printer paper diplomas.”
Besides offering some degree of closure, the virtual celebration also displayed the resilience of the Georgetown community, according to Ilari Papa (SFS ’20).
“I enjoyed the virtual commencement events despite the circumstances. I am extremely grateful for the hard work that the staff, faculty, and administration did in order to make seniors feel appreciated at such a significant point in our lives,” Papa wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am rooted in a community that will keep flourishing in the most perilous contexts.”
On May 1, the university announced it was hosting an online commencement ceremony ahead of a future in-person gathering after originally postponing commencement on March 18. On March 17, hundreds of graduating seniors signed an open letter to the university pushing against a cancellation of commencement.
The university decision was influenced by public health considerations. Lacking a clear timeline for when the COVID-19 pandemic will subside, the university has not chosen a date for an in-person ceremony, according to Provost Robert Groves. Nothing, however, can replace an in-person ceremony, he says.
“All of the administration, the wonderful alumni, and fellow students worked together to put together a virtual event,” Groves wrote in an email to The Hoya. “None of us believe, I think, that it rivaled the splendor and ritualized impact of an in-person commencement. Few look forward to doing this again and hope that we can soon celebrate the graduates of 2020 with a proper ceremony.”
Administrators made some efforts to recreate aspects of the in-person ceremony. Donning the customary dark blue graduation gown with grey arm patches, University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) commended the resilience and character of the graduating class in a video message during the ceremony.
“This is not how we expected to be spending this weekend,” DeGioia said in his address. “I wish to express my gratitude to each of you, first for the ways in which you responded to a heart-breaking disruption in mid-March. It has been a source of consolation and inspiration that you have accepted responsibility for caring for everyone around you.”
Following a centuries-old procedure using modern-day software, DeGioia recited the brief commencement dictum, certifying the graduation of undergraduate and graduate students on the main campus and students at the Georgetown University Law Center.
In a separate online ceremony held May 17, 187 new physicians graduated from the Georgetown University School of Medicine. GUSOM graduates will be entering the field during one of the most trying medical crises in recent memory. Many GUSOM students have tried to help tackle the crisis while on campus, gathering much-needed supplies for professionals combatting the pandemic and helping treat COVID-19 patients virtually.
The degree-awarding ceremony caps off a turbulent and upsetting spring semester, one which has left some seniors with a missing sense of closure to their Georgetown careers.
New graduate Claire Hazbun (SFS ’20), though appreciative of the online ceremony, said the pandemic erased plans and experiences that will be hard to fully replicate.
“I’m definitely glad that Georgetown decided to have both a virtual commencement and an in-person commencement in the future,” Hazbun wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The abrupt end to the semester was pretty jarring, and I felt disappointed in not being able to properly wrap up the last four years of my life. The whole end to the semester and the virtual commencement was pretty anticlimactic.”
Despite the unwelcome disruption to senior spring, Papa is excited to launch herself into the real world.
“I look forward to seeing my friends again, fully immerse in my professional life, and work with other talented people to bring our passions and dreams to life,” Papa wrote. “Now, it is time to roll our sleeves and become women and men for others, for the world.”