A Historic Celebration for a Historic Group: Drexel Virtually Honors the Class of 2020

Main Building.
Drexel University's Main Building was one of the many Philly landmarks that lit up in blue and gold June 11 to honor Drexel's Class of 2020.

This year, Drexel University’s University-wide commencement was not held in Citizens Bank Park, as it has in the last few years, but the home of the Philadelphia Phillies still lit up in support of Drexel and Philadelphia legend Dan Baker still started off the celebration with a celebratory message. The special Drexel-branded champagne glass and graduation cap have been mailed to Dragons at home; the glasses would have been filled during the University’s annual champagne toast for seniors and the cap would have been worn with a gown as its wearer walked across a stage and attended commencement ceremonies.

But selfies and pictures of the Class of 2020 and their family were still taken and shared online. Degrees were still conferred onto people who worked very hard to earn them during their time at the University. Colleges and schools still held individual ceremonies that students could attend in addition to the University-wide commencement event. And, most of all, time was still reserved to honor those students and their accomplishments, as well as everyone that supported them along the way, and welcome those new alumni to the next stages of their lives.

Because, yes, the University was not be able to hold this year’s commencement in person, but that didn’t stop Dragons from showing off — and sharing — their Drexel pride together, on a special night.

At 6 p.m. EST on June 11, Drexel hosted a virtual celebration for Dragons around the world to come together (online) and celebrate all that this year’s graduating class achieved over the years — especially everything that was accomplished during, and in spite of, the last few months. A video featuring President John Fry, alumni, students, members of the administration and the board of trustees was released at that time; it was hosted on a commencement website that Dragons could use to reminisce on Drexel traditions, remain connected to their new alma mater and learn more about the University’s prestigious alumni network.

DrexelNow compiled the highlights of the virtual celebration below — but before you get to that, press play on this video for a special introduction.

Video Congratulations from Dan Baker
The voice of baseball in Philly, and on behalf of the Philadelphia Phillies, proud Drexel Dragon parent Dan Baker congratulates our Class of 2020 graduates. Go Dragons!

Now that you’ve been properly welcomed by Dan Baker, the voice of baseball in Philly and a proud Drexel Dragon parent who has served as the emcee of past Drexel commencement ceremonies in Citizens Bank Park, read on:

The central hub for all things Class of 2020 can be found at the virtual celebration website. It’s filled with videos, photos, messages, songs, downloadable images to use on social media, a social media feed of the #foreverdragons hashtag and key parts of the Drexel legacy. You should definitely check out this collection of tributes to this year’s graduates.

“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 said in his address to graduates, which was included in the almost 33-minute-long video tribute featured on the homepage. “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.”

During his message, which can be read in full here, Fry related that the resiliency and grit that the graduates displayed while adapting not just to the quick pivot to remote learning that occurred during the spring quarter, but also to the COVID-19 pandemic and public reckoning of racial inequity, is just one of the many signs that they are well-equipped to change society and the future by becoming both active citizens and experts in their chosen fields.

“As so often happens in history, you have inherited a problem you had no hand in creating — but which you must and will take the lead in solving,” he told the Class of 2020, later adding, “These are uncertain times in many ways. But I feel so much more confident about our future — simply by knowing that you, our graduates, will be part of it.”

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Fry was just one of the many speakers who recorded messages to graduates either at the podium placed in the Great Court of Main Building, or from the comforts of their homes. Those Dragons who also congratulated the Class of 2020 in that video included:

  • Senior Vice President Subir Sahu, PhD, who recounted some of the traditions and experiences that students lived through during their time at Drexel. Sahu also affirmed the University’s commitment to making the campus community a more welcoming and inclusive place, and supporting those addressing institutional racism, police brutality, inequities and injustices plaguing today’s society. He then led a moment of silence to honor, as he movingly described, “the memory of all black lives lost to this senseless and systematic violence.”
  • Board of Trustees member and noted alumna Chris McKendry ’90, who shared greetings and congratulations on behalf of the Board of Trustees and welcomed the new class of alumni.
  • Interim Nina Henderson Provost Paul Jensen, PhD, who implored the Class of 2020 to stay connected to the University and its network of Dragons, and return for an official commencement ceremony next June.
  • Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) President Apoorva Selvaraj, BS/MS ’20, who urged her fellow graduates to use their Drexel education and experiences to step up, speak out and be an advocate and ally going forward.
  • Graduate Student Association (GSA) Vice President of Academic Affairs Guillermo Ibarrola Recalde, PhD ’20, who encouraged the Class of 2020 to celebrate both their failures and accomplishments and look forward to what the future can hold.
  • Former Philadelphia Inquirer editor and two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient Bill Marrimow, who gave the Drexel University 2020 Keynote Address that highlighted the benefits of mentorship through the stories of alumni and his own experiences.

The “Drexel University’s 2020 University-Wide Celebration” video then ended after a conferral of degrees and final congratulations to the Class of 2020.

There was also a special in-person component to the June 11 celebration which was likely seen by Dragons in Philly and also shared on the website for all to see, and remember.

Notable landmarks in Philadelphia — from the Mario the Dragon statue and Main Building on the University City Campus to Boathouse row and the Center City skyline to Citizens Bank Park and the Wells Fargo Center — were lit up in blue and gold lights the night of June 11. Video and photos of those blue and gold sights were shown on WPHL-TV (PHL-17) and WCAU-TV (NBC-10) segments; CBS-3 even sent out its news helicopter to shoot breathtaking aerial footage of the Philly skyline lit up in blue and gold, and when gazing at a photo of the Mario the Dragon, 6-abc’s legendary news anchor Jim Gardner remarked, “That’s an attractive dragon in blue and gold, darn right.”

Here’s a photo sideshow compilation of all the best photos of Philadelphia wearing blue and gold that were taken that night:

And, of course, there was the rest of the virtual celebration that can be found online. You can read messages from alumni and learn about their stories; download images to share on social media; listen to the Drexel fight song; watch videos exploring the University’s history and special home in the city of Philadelphia and even learn how to wear a Drexel cap and gown on the popular Animal Crossings game. It’s worth checking out here.

But before you go, let LeBow College of Business Interim Dean Vibhas Madan play you out with a special song he’s written and played on his guitar called “Drexel’s Class of 2020: A Song for You.”

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