What to expect from GW’s virtual graduation celebration

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Camille DeSanto | Assistant Photo Editor

The online ceremony will last just 20 minutes and include small video shoutouts submitted by gradtuating seniors in lieu of any external speaker.

The Class of 2020 might not throw their caps on the National Mall until next year, but officials are preparing an online ceremony seniors will never forget.

This year’s virtual Commencement celebration will take place online Sunday on GW’s Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. Officials said the 20-minute long event will feature five speakers, including Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, University President Thomas LeBlanc and outgoing Student Association President SJ Matthews.

“The virtual Commencement celebration will bring together our 2020 graduates, their families and friends and the GW community currently scattered across the globe,” University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said in an email.

Nosal said the brief ceremony is pre-recorded to “ensure everyone’s safety” while people are practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony will be posted on both GW’s commencement website and on Facebook at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. But the ceremony will remain posted afterward for students to continue to watch, it can be viewed on GW’s commencement website, Nosal said.

This year’s celebration will not feature a Commencement speaker. In the past, GW brought in people like actress and GW alumna Kerry Washington, acclaimed chef and visiting professor José Andrés and most recently TODAY Show host Savannah Guthrie to ring in the occasion on the Mall.

Graduates are also invited to return to the Mall to celebrate at next year’s Commencement ceremony. Nosal said the online celebration is not intended to replace the “traditional” ceremony on the Mall.

“We know how much this historic ceremony means to our community, which is why the Class of 2020 is invited to celebrate in person at Commencement on the Mall in May 2021,” she said.

Nosal said students were encouraged to submit videos shouting out the accomplishments of their peers, sharing notable memories from the past four years or showing their appreciation to family, friends and professors who have helped them during their time at GW. The photos and videos, which are no longer than 15 seconds, will be incorporated into the online celebration, she said.

“Graduating students can use these submissions to share a favorite GW memory, ‘only at GW’ moment, congratulate each other, share advice or thank family, friends and professors for their support,” Nosal said.

Matthews, the outgoing SA president, said students will open the ceremony by singing the alma mater. Speights, LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake will follow with opening remarks, she said.

Matthews said her speech will focus on “setting precedents” and advice for helping other people. Despite graduating during a pandemic, Matthews said she hopes graduates can still feel proud of what they have accomplished during their tenure at GW and what skills they can put to use.

“I hope the Class of 2020 takes away pride in their accomplishment despite the unprecedented circumstances of commencement,” she said. “I hope the Class of 2020 leaves virtual Commencement ready to go and change the world because we need leaders now more than ever.”

Individual school ceremonies are also being replaced with virtual celebrations. Seniors can find information about the ceremonies being held by their respective colleges here.

At the smaller school ceremonies, students will be recognized by name, according to a GW Commencement FAQ page. Degrees will not be conferred at school ceremonies, the website states.

“There will be a student recognition component to replace the traditional ‘calling’ of students’ names individually to ‘cross the stage,'” the website states.

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