As the class of 2020 began this semester at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), none of the students could have foreseen the unprecedented events that would occur just two months later. COVID-19 put an abrupt halt to in-person classes and on-campus activities. When it became clear that graduation could not take place as scheduled, the university created something new – virtual commencement.
“Even though we can’t come together to recognize the accomplishments of our spring graduates, we believe it’s important to celebrate this milestone and give our undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to share the moment with their families and friends,” FGCU President Mike Martin said. “We’re creating a virtual commencement to take place May 3 at 10 a.m. Graduates will be encouraged to virtually personalize their experience, invite guests and share their achievements via social media.”
The event is meant to serve as an interim celebration until FGCU can once again hold a traditional ceremony. To kick off the virtual celebration, the university mailed tassels and mortarboards to roughly 2,000 soon-to-be-graduates. Now, seniors are encouraged to don their new apparel and take a photo or record a video that will become part of the event.
“This will give our seniors a way to personally thank the people in their lives who helped make their achievements possible,” Martin said.
FGCU’s virtual commencement will be delivered through a special website. Each graduate’s photo or video clip will be combined with a commencement speech by President Martin and other inspiring video content. This will create a virtual walk across the stage for each graduate, all of whom will be able to keep this video and share it online.
While Martin’s speech addresses the challenges students are facing because of coronavirus, the president also strikes a positive tone.
“If there’s one thing I am certain of in these uncertain times, it’s that I am immensely proud of the class of 2020. You have risen to unprecedented challenges this semester,” Martin said in his speech, which debuts May 3. “You have shown, and continue to show, fortitude, flexibility and an intrepid nature that will serve you forever. This illustrates your ability to adjust to changing times and situations, a quality that will serve you well in whatever career you pursue.”
Much like the class of 2020, university staff had to quickly adapt to changes necessitated by the spread of coronavirus. While many employees were working from home, a team made up of people from across campus pulled together to make virtual commencement a reality. Multiple elements were put in place before Florida implemented a stay-at-home order.
“The idea came together pretty quickly after a mandate from the Florida State University System to cancel all commencement ceremonies due to COVID-19,” said Deborah Wiltrout, associate vice president of marketing and communications. “Understanding just how important it is to recognize the accomplishments of our graduates, we knew we had to do something. Staff from the University Marketing & Communications department and the division of Student Success and Enrollment Management came together to pull it off.”
Graduating seniors can still participate in virtual commencement, providing they upload the requested content by 11 p.m. EST on Sunday, April 26. To learn more, visit fgcu.edu/may2020grad.