There were no pomp and circumstance playing or crowds of beaming parents reaching over each other to snap photos.
But North Central College in Naperville forged ahead with their planned graduation ceremony anyway on Sunday afternoon, gathering students and families together on a live webcast rather than on campus.
“This isn't the type of ceremony any of us wanted, but I hope you still find moments that really speak to you,” said President Troy Hammond as he welcomed viewers, wearing traditional regalia.
Colleges and universities across Illinois and the country are trying to find ways to celebrate the class of 2020 after the COVID-19 shutdown made in-person graduations impossible this spring. Some universities have postponed in-person commencements until next year, while others are planning virtual ceremonies.
Officials at North Central decided to put an extra personal twist on the typical graduation proceedings. Instead of having an administrator read the names of the nearly 900 graduates, students chose a faculty or staff members to pre-record their name, which the school stitched together for the virtual commencement.
“Normally, at this point in the ceremony, you’d walk across the stage when your name is called and I’d shake your hand and present you with your diploma cover,” Hammond said before they played the videos. “Today you’ll hear your name read by a person you have a particular connection with, a person you selected whether a coach, professor or staff member.”
Senior Emily Adams chose her German professor, Gregory Wolf.
“He’s just been a wonderful mentor and helped me secure a Fulbright scholarship for next school year,” Adams said in an interview via Zoom.
Adams received a dual degree in economics and German with a minor in Chinese. She watched the ceremony from her parents’ home in Wausau, Wis. Adams has been planning to move to Germany and teach English classes as a Fulbright scholar, but those plans are now uncertain after the program pushed the start date back to January.
She finished her course requirements in the fall semester, so she spent the spring working at a public school, which guarantees her a job throughout the fall as she waits for the Fulbright program to start. But she said her classmates aren’t so lucky as they graduate into a world with an extremely uncertain economic future.
“They’re facing this job market that is so unpredictable and you see all these layoffs happening,” said Adams.
Psychology professor Karl Kelley was asked to record names by 13 students. He was honored and flattered by the requests, but said he was also surprised by some of the requests and asked students why they chose him.
“Sometimes it was a connection because a student might have been struggling with something in their life and they didn't know who to turn to and I gave them a suggestion or advice,” he said. Others said they chose him because he introduced them to a new field of study that they are now pursuing as a career.
Adams said even though the graduation wasn’t what she expected when she started her senior year, she was still excited to celebrate four years of hard work. The ceremony ended with a benediction from a graduate and a performance of the school’s alma mater.
North Central College administrators said they’re also planning an in-person ceremony for the class of 2020 at a later date.