Extraordinary circumstances: Celebrating the Class of 2020

Virtual Celebrations pages were created in recognition of this year’s graduates.

A collage of graduates

The University of Nevada, Reno celebrates the Class of 2020 with Virtual Celebrations as a way of showing pride and unity during an unprecedented time.

Extraordinary circumstances: Celebrating the Class of 2020

Virtual Celebrations pages were created in recognition of this year’s graduates.

The University of Nevada, Reno celebrates the Class of 2020 with Virtual Celebrations as a way of showing pride and unity during an unprecedented time.

A collage of graduates

The University of Nevada, Reno celebrates the Class of 2020 with Virtual Celebrations as a way of showing pride and unity during an unprecedented time.

As mid-May nears and students complete final exams, there is one group of students whose time at the University of Nevada, Reno is sunsetting without the planned and expected fanfare. With Commencement exercises postponed, the University community has pulled together in an effort to celebrate its graduates online. Virtual Celebrations are not meant to replace traditional Commencement ceremonies but rather offer the graduates a way to share their accomplishments as they finish their degree(s). Virtual Celebrations are just one of the ways University colleges and schools are honoring the Class of 2020.

This spring, the University will confer 3,240 degrees – 2,576 bachelor’s degrees and 601 advanced degrees (master’s and doctoral degrees). Sixty-three University School of Medicine degrees will be awarded in a virtual hooding celebration at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 14. This online ceremony was supported by the medical school graduates since they are moving on to their residencies, many of which are out of state.

Additionally, Tyler Harris was selected as the Spring 2020 Herz Gold Medalist. The University is also recognizing 11 Senior Scholars from six colleges and five schools. 

“We are proud to recognize the outstanding, enduring and diligent efforts of individuals that reflect the sacrifice, spirit and mission of our University,” University President Marc Johnson said. “While students aren’t walking across the stage this May, they are receiving notable academic degrees as a result of impressive fortitude and unyielding determination during an unprecedented time.”

Most Virtual Celebration pages include a list of graduates by college, school or unit. They include a video message from President Johnson as well as either a written or video message from their dean and other University faculty. Also, as part of the website, graduates were given the opportunity to add a photo to their listing as well as a note about their time at the University. Graduate profiles are also sharable on social media. Additionally, the complete listing of graduates will be online in a virtual program featuring the video message from President Johnson, University School of Medicine Dean Tom Schwenk, and letters from ASUN and GSA presidents.

Fly the flag! A Wolf Pack Community call to action

In addition to the Virtual Celebrations, the University is encouraging the community to show its pride and publicly recognize the Class of 2020 by decorating outside spaces with Nevada Wolf Pack memorabilia, in an effort to turn the community blue, May 14-16. Additionally, community partners and organizations are encouraged to take photos of their efforts and to post their messages of congratulations to social media using #PackPride.

“This is a group of students who were racing to the finish line of their University careers when the global health crisis forced a tremendous amount of unplanned change,” President Johnson said. “Yet, they adjusted, stayed focused and overcame every hurdle to achieve one of life’s most important milestones.”

A semester unlike any other

The mobilization by the University in the face of a worldwide public health crisis in March 2020 was historic by any measure.

The impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was felt throughout the world, the country and in Nevada. The University responded quickly, taking far-reaching measures to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. On March 18, after previously recalling students and faculty who were studying and teaching abroad due to the threat of coronavirus across the globe, the University moved delivery of all operations, services and course instruction online or remotely.

Wrote President Marc Johnson in a letter to the University community during that week, “Each of you, in your own way and in working collectively, have shown a willingness to modify how we work, study, live and learn on our campus – all based on the best science-based information, recommendations and practices that the public health community of our country and our state has put forward… If there is one thing that our University community does exceptionally well, it is that we are at our strongest coming together for a common cause. We’ve seen this coming together many times in our past, and we have seen this care and concern for each other rise yet again throughout our University community over the past few days. We must never forget that this remains an integral and defining characteristic of our institution, and that it will continue to be called upon in the future.”

Over the next several weeks, the characteristics that Johnson praised were illuminated time and again by University students, faculty and staff. The Associated Students of the University of Nevada’s Campus Escort and Pack Provisions worked to ensure that food pantry services remained available for the University’s food-vulnerable undergraduate and graduate students. University Honors student Jayde Powell created “Shopping Angels” to deliver groceries to COVID-19 at-risk populations whereby volunteers picked up groceries and other shopping essentials and delivered them to those who couldn’t leave their homes. Powell’s work was featured by the national media, including CNN and LIVE with Kelly and Ryan. Staffing was extended at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory testing services to provide full COVID-19 testing capacity for the public health needs of the entire state. Substantial amounts of PPE from across the campus – basic science labs, agriculture, art – were mobilized and shared to support University healthcare providers in their clinical duties. As students and faculty returned from studying abroad, they were contacted on a daily basis by Dr. Cheryl Hug-English and her staff at the Student Health Center to ensure that quarantine periods were being observed and any health questions and needs were being met.

The acts were emblematic of the University’s sense of togetherness. They were a reminder of the words of the writer Rebecca Solnit, who in her many writings about major historic challenges the American people have faced, they have always ultimately discovered “agency, meaning, community, immediacy in their work together.”

The University had made a remarkable transition. It was one that meant that although much time was being spent online or remotely each day during the concluding two months of the spring semester, there was still an important personal connection still being made, as the University still fulfilled its essential mission to the people of Nevada.

“Everyone on campus has done extraordinary things in an extraordinary circumstance,” President Johnson said. “This week, it’s important we recognize those efforts and also share in celebration – even virtually – with the Class of 2020. We look forward to seeing them in-person at one of our December 2020 or May 2021 ceremonies. But, for now, let’s show them our pride in celebration of their accomplishments.”

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