On Sunday, around 800 Ohio University graduates from the class of 2020 and their family members returned to Athens to finally walk across the stage during in-person commencement.
The event took place outdoors on College Green, the first to do so since the 1960s, before graduate commencements were moved to The Convo. It was also livestreamed for those unable to attend.
The original ceremony was scheduled to take place May 1–2, 2020. However, it was canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic-related capacity restrictions. In the spring, an optional physically distanced, hybrid ceremony was held in its place, and students wore masks and were not permitted to walk across the stage.
In spring 2021, 2020 graduates were notified that an in-person celebration would be held in the fall.
“Oh, man, I cried. I immediately took a screenshot of the email and sent it to my mom, like, ‘Oh my, God, it’s happening! Tell everybody!’” OU graduate Keeley Gonzalez said about when she first heard about the September commencement.
President Hugh Sherman began graduation by welcoming graduates and family members back to campus after the unconventional end to their senior year.
“It was heartbreaking to see our campuses close, our classrooms empty and our brick pathways to quiet,” Sherman said. “After you graduated, you continued on your own personal journeys over this past year. I want to salute you for overcoming so many challenges and for doing your best through this difficult time. We are all proud of you, and everyone watching here and online is proud of you.”
Prior to honoring graduates, Sherman and Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs presented two former students with honorary degrees. The first was Francis Papay, a plastic surgeon and facial reconstruction expert who graduated from OU in 1975. The second was Richard Vincent, a respected osteopathic administrator.
The ceremony’s commencement speaker was Keith Hawkins, an OU alumnus and a professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. Hawkins addressed graduates and family members with advice about some of the hallmarks of success.
“I am an astronomer, not to be confused with an astrologer … So sadly, I cannot read your signs. I apologize,” Hawkins said. “But if I could, today's horoscope will probably read ‘Congratulations! You have overcome one of life's greatest trials and tribulations and have succeeded … It's time for you to reap the rewards.”
He also encouraged graduates to discover their paths to success, whatever they may look like.
“There are many paths to success. And now, class of 2020, you must find yours,” Hawkins said. “Along my journey through college and to success, I've discovered that inspiration and that passion are just the start, but achieving your dreams takes hard work, patience, failure and, above all, a team of supporters and family friends.”
The ceremony first honored doctoral graduates, who were able to walk up and receive their hoods. Second to walk were graduate degree recipients, followed by undergraduates.
Several graduates expressed their excitement at returning to campus and participating in a normal graduation.
“I was super sad that we didn’t get to go back … I took it really hard honestly, but yeah, it just sucks because you work so hard for it and then you don't get to (graduate),” graduate Sierra Miller, who received a degree in exercise physiology, said. “I’ve already seen so many of my friends that I haven't seen in so long and it's just like I feel on top of the world.”