A Virtual Farewell to the Class of 2020

The weather was beautiful in Philadelphia for graduation day, but that wasn’t a concern for this year’s commencement ceremony–rather, it was internet access and connectivity. Thursday, June 11 at 6 p.m. marked the first ever virtual commencement ceremony in Drexel University history, featuring a university-wide celebration with the City of Philadelphia lighting up blue and gold, as well as commemorations at the college level across 17 schools and colleges on campus.

Screenshot of commencement website
The commencement website included recorded speeches, video messages of congratulations and slideshows of photos and messages.

Drexel Engineering kicked off its own celebration that same morning, hosted on a commencement website with messages from Dean Sharon Walker, President John Fry, Interim Provost Paul Jensen, and student speakers, Kristine Loh (BS/MS) and Saad Intikhab (PhD). The website also highlighted videos and slideshows honoring graduates with congratulatory messages, photos and recordings submitted by friends and family, with shoutouts on an all day long social media. Engineering students were also encouraged to celebrate with their own social media posts, using #ForeverDragoneers (Dragon + Engineer), an adaptation of the university’s #ForeverDragons, to be displayed with a live feed on the virtual commencement website. Students, friends  and families used goodies and photo props created for the ceremony to commemorate the day, prompting the display of the usual Drexel pride in these unusual circumstances.

“In the digital world especially, virtual means a synthesized or simulated reality. But there is nothing synthesized about the hard work and discipline you all have invested in earning the degrees we celebrate tonight,” President Fry affirmed in his address to graduates.  There’s a clear sense of delight evident in his features as he continues to address the Class of 2020, “There is nothing simulated about the pride felt by your parents, friends and family. And there is certainly nothing synthesized about the gratitude I feel for the way the Class of 2020, along with all of our students, faculty and professional staff, responded to the COVID-19 challenge.” 

Though these celebrations could not occur in person, there was certainly a sense of community displayed throughout the week. Numerous students commemorated the milestone on social media and in the college slide shows with on-campus photos in their graduation gowns and caps, and sentiments about their journey at Drexel in captions and comments. CoE undergraduate speaker, Kristine Loh, echoed these remarks, unifying the collective Engineering journey in one fundamental theme.

“As I reflected on the many memories I’ve made at Drexel, I think the one central theme of our four or five years here is resilience. Especially during these trying times, and even now as I’m speaking to you through a screen, the Class of 2020 has stayed resilient through it all. We’ve managed to finish senior design projects virtually, survive a transition between curricula, and above all, deal with the change to $6 halal,” Loh jokes, acknowledging the accomplishment each student has felt in competition of their time at Drexel. “I know I’m not the only one who wanted to give up whenever MATLAB decided not to cooperate. But, we didn’t. We have developed a strength that will continue to push us through adversity in our career and beyond. If we could deal with that weird circus performance during Welcome Week, flooded apartments and classrooms, and that one flickering ceiling light in Disque 108, we can get through it all.”

The 2020 virtual celebrations are still live at the College of Engineering commencement website.

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