Congratulations Class of 2020: Georgia State holds first virtual commencement

Georgia State's Division of Public Relations and Marketing creates virtual celebration. Photo by Brooklyn Valera | The Signal

On May 6, Georgia State held its first-ever virtual commencement to honor the achievements of the class of 2020. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a formal graduation was postponed until further notice. 

Georgia State still wanted to celebrate its students in the meantime.

According to Andrea Jones, associate vice president of Public Relations and Marketing at Georgia State, the Division of Public Relations and Marketing created the virtual celebration.

“We wanted to celebrate the class of 2020, knowing that we will gather in person to celebrate them as soon as it is safe to do so,” Jones said. “We began planning ways to honor the class in March, when we knew that an in-person ceremony would be postponed. Our plans came together in the last couple of weeks.”

Chandler Brown, coordinator of Administrative Communications, was the master of ceremonies during the 26-minute-long video. 

The virtual celebration acted as a placeholder for the commencement ceremony that was initially scheduled to be held that week.

“We wish we were celebrating together in person today, and we look forward to seeing everyone at our in-person ceremonies as soon as it is safe to do so,” Brown said. 

Georgia State University President Mark Becker began the celebration by addressing and congratulating the students.

“Earning a college degree is among the most meaningful and significant achievements of your lifetime,” he said. “I look forward to the day when we will come together in person to celebrate the academic accomplishments of the class of 2020 and the combination of your hard work and perseverance. We will announce that date when it is safe once again for us to hold large gatherings.”

But some students do not plan on attending the physical ceremony in the future. 

Sinclaire Johnson, a Georgia State graduate, watched the live virtual ceremony and thought it sufficed.  

“I think that the virtual ceremony was sufficient for right now, but I do wish that they would have given us more time and notice,” she said. “I did not get to watch it in my cap and gown because [it] was sent to my parents’ house, and the university didn’t give us enough notice about the ceremony for me to get my cap and gown in time. My family and I plan to have our own celebration once we feel it is safe enough to do so. I don’t think that I will be attending a later physical celebration.” 

The Signal spoke with Johnson in a previous article, where she addressed why she finds the significance in keeping her cap and gown, despite not walking.

After President Becker, Georgia State’s 90th Student Government Association University-Wide President Jazmin Mejia addressed the class of 2020. 

“I am so proud of the class of 2020. Like all Georgia State graduates who came before us, we have overcome unbelievable obstacles to make it to this day, but we did it,” Mejia said. “You did it during a world health crisis like we’ve never seen before, and that is no easy feat. I understand exactly how difficult it was to make it to the finish line, but we did it … together. We are now Georgia State graduates and proud panther alumni.”

The video continued by congratulating the Nell Hamilton Trotter Student Leadership Award recipient, Pia-Milan Green. 

According to Georgia State’s leadership awards description, this award is the “highest student leadership award presented by the university.”

Green was “heavily involved in campus life,” having been on the advisory board of the 1913 Society, a resident assistant and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. 

Green is graduating with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in human rights and democracy. She plans to attend law school in the years to come.

Another award presented was the Kell Award, given to the Georgia State student with the highest institutional grade point average. 

This year’s recipient was Savannah Setter, a double major in anthropology and sociology. Setter also worked as a multicultural competence and peer educator ambassador. She trained students and staff on inclusion and cultural competency as a Panther-lead mentor with University Housing. She created programs for the Multicultural Center and founded EQUIP, a student-led LGBTQ+ activist organization.

The remaining class of 2020 was recognized proceeding this. 

The graduation song, “Pomp and Circumstance,” played while the students’ names rolled across the blue screen. The list of students was divided by colleges.

The order was as follows:

  • Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
  • Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions
  • College of Arts and Sciences 
  • College of Education and Human Development 
  • College of the Arts
  • J. Mack Robinson College of Business
  • Perimeter College
  • School of Public Health
  • Ph.D. Candidates

The college was in correspondence with the day each formal commencement was to be held.

More than 35,000 students and families from across the country tuned into the celebration.

Scarlett Reece, a Georgia State graduate,  celebrated with her family Friday. This was the day she was scheduled to attend the commencement ceremony.

“President Becker has repeatedly said that we will be having an in-person ceremony, for which I am very grateful,” Reece said. “I greatly appreciated [Georgia State] recognizing all of the graduates. I’m also very grateful for the opportunities afforded to me while attending Georgia State.”

Reece, a vocal performance major, sang the Georgia State alma mater to close the celebration. The lyrics were to the left of her as she was clad in her cap and gown with a blue background. 

The last frame was of blue fireworks with the words, “Congratulations Class of 2020, The State Way.”