Georgia Tech holds ‘atypical’ virtual commencement celebration

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera speaks during a virtual commencement ceremony it held on May 1, 2020. CONTRIBUTED BY GEORGIA TECH

There was pomp. There were speeches. There were a few technical glitches.

That was how what Georgia Tech called its “atypical” virtual commencement celebration went Friday afternoon.

The Midtown Atlanta institution held a nearly two-hour celebration after postponing its in-person ceremony because of the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced all schools to close their campuses. It’s perhaps the first Georgia college or university to hold an online commencement. A few others are planning virtual ceremonies in coming weeks.

Parents and students initially reacted with surprise and disappointment when the schools announced during the early days of the pandemic there would be no in-person commencements. Several schools are planning in-person ceremonies this fall. Some students have organized small graduation celebrations themselves.

The campus shutdown forced major adjustments. Students had to leave their dorms. The school went to virtual learning, drawing complaints about technical problems and demands the state system that oversees Georgia Tech implement a pass/fail grading option for students because of the challenges.

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera spoke from an empty McCamish Pavilion, where the commencement was previously scheduled. Cabrera, like other faculty members, praised the 3,800 graduates for their perseverance. He encouraged students to continue to rise through this challenge.

“Let’s own it,” he said. “Let’s embrace it.”

Georgia Tech had about 3,400 viewers at the peak of the ceremony. Parents and friends posted celebratory messages to students. There were, though, moments the audio was choppy or couldn’t be heard.

About a dozen new graduates were interviewed during the broadcast. Armand Raynor said he spent part of his time building a human-sized robot. Zoie Konneker, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, spoke of how the reporting team there became her family this year. Connor Hawley talked about how he missed hearing the loud whistle that blows at the top of each hour on campus. (It blew at the ceremony’s end.)

“That time is lost,” Hawley said of some of the things he missed.

Hawley and others did their best to be optimistic. They are, after all, now graduates.

“It’s not what we thought this commencement would be but here we are,” said Georgia Tech social media manager Brice Zimmerman, who hosted the ceremony.

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