Video messages from graduates, music performances of the alma mater and fight song, and words of wisdom from leadership help mark an unprecedented day.
In a first-of-its-kind ceremony, the George Washington University conferred degrees on the class of 2020 during a virtual event featuring remarks from university leadership, a student speaker and video messages of gratitude and favorite memories from the graduates themselves.
The ceremony, held Sunday, was an opportunity to bring together graduates, their families and the broader GW community at the same time to recognize the day. While the event helped mark the traditional spring milestone for those graduating during a pandemic, the class of 2020 will be invited back to join GW at the bicentennial Commencement on the National Mall in 2021.
Below are the words of wisdom and advice to the class of 2020—in addition to video messages from GW alumni and all the video submissions and messages graduates sent in.
Student speaker’s remarks
Outgoing Student Association President SJ Matthews, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in classical studies from GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, urged graduates to set their own “precedents,” evoking the story of Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman graduate of GW Law. Ms. Matthews also noted the strong spirit of service among GW graduates and their commitment to solving problems.
“We are ready,” Ms. Matthews said. “We are ready to rise to the challenge that tomorrow will bring. We are ready to change the world in our diverse fields. We are ready to not just rise to the occasion, but to set our own precedents.”
Board chair’s remarks
Despite the “fog” obstructing the view of what lay ahead, Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, said graduates’ “only-at-GW” experiences and education prepared them for uncertainty by providing them with new skills and ways of thinking.
“The world is changing rapidly, and it needs leaders to help guide us through the fog to a more secure future,” Ms. Speights said. “You are those leaders. It’s a great responsibility.”
“You are graduating during one of the most difficult periods in recent history,” President Thomas LeBlanc told graduates, noting the sudden loss of lives, connections and certainty in the world.
But he reminded graduates of the importance of using their leadership to support the “greater good,” to find strength in other difficult moments in history and present-day struggles, and to remember that challenges overcome today bring strength tomorrow.
He charged graduates:
Today I charge you to reflect on your experiences and challenges and to find meaning in them, to learn from them. Hold close your friends and family, even if at a distance. Live your values each and every day. Take care of yourself, but focus on the needs of those around you.
Knowing so many are struggling and in need of help, I charge you to use your GW education to change the world in big and small ways: Fight for societal change. Invent a new product. Display an act of kindness.
Finally, I charge you always to continue to find light in dark, difficult times. If today, and every day, you can find a way to lift someone up, or make a sacrifice in support of the greater good, we will all see brighter tomorrows far into the future.
Class of 2020, I know that you will continue to bring your leadership and service to your communities around the world. And I know that, no matter the challenges ahead, you will rise up—and Raise High!
Provost M. Brian Blake commended graduates for following their passions and becoming the “scholars and leaders who will help guide the world through this time of crisis.”
With the support of family, friends, classmates and mentors, graduates became stronger and persevered, he said.
“I’m proud every day to be provost of GW, but today, I’m especially honored to see you—passionate, accomplished and resilient—entering the world as GW graduates,” Dr. Blake said.
Patty Carocci, associate vice president of alumni relations and annual giving, welcomed graduates into a lifelong community of more than 300,000 alumni in 150 countries.
The GW Alumni Association stands ready to help graduates navigating life after GW—whether through finding a job, building a professional network, or developing new skills, Ms. Carocci said.
“The support we provide each other and the connections we weave as GW alumni strengthen the fabric of our community and help us define a path forward, even in the midst of uncertainty,” she said. “There’s a buff and blue thread that connects us all, and I hope you feel the encouragement and support of your fellow GW alumni, wherever they may be.”