By Karen Kelly

There have been champagne bottles filled with gummy bears, gowned graduates flanked by family members and chat windows filled with expressions of pride and support.

Prof. Kim Hellemans

Prof. Kim Hellemans

Carleton’s graduation celebrations looked a lot different in fall 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who took part found the happiness of the graduates transcended the barriers of technology and isolation.

“We felt it was important to celebrate our students individually,” says Kim Hellemans, chair of the Department of Neuroscience, which hosted a virtual ceremony on Nov. 14, 2020 after the university-wide ceremony video was posted online.

Faculty members read out the names of all students and their thesis titles. Grad supervisors were also invited to say a few words.

“In the future, we are actually considering doing this in addition to the in-person ceremony. It lent an extra personal touch that we did not anticipate,” says Hellemans.

Screenshot of the Neuroscience graduation celebration on Zoom

An Extra Personal Touch

A number of departments hosted live virtual events and others shared congratulatory videos and messages on their websites. In the Sprott School of Business, Kaeleigh Hanlon helped plan their celebration.

“Despite being virtual, it felt very intimate,” says Hanlon, program administrator in the Master of Accounting program.

“I looked through the Zoom call and every student had a smile on their face, especially when the dean read off each student’s name in attendance. It was a great way to give everyone the quintessential graduation moment.”

Sprott’s Event Coordinator Allison Shields helped produced videos of faculty and staff offering congratulatory messages for the Master of Accounting students, as well as all Sprott graduates. These gave students a chance to see familiar faces and reflect back on their time in the program.

“From my experience, I would say that when you break away from trying to mirror the [in-person] graduation celebration, there is a lot that is possible,” says Shields.

“Hearing the students cheer for their classmates was a big win in my eyes. The personal messages from professors and staff meant a lot to them, as well. It was the right move in bookending a really big chapter in their lives.

A Keynote for Chemists

The Department of Chemistry took advantage of the tailor-made format to feature its own keynote speaker—Ottawa native Jason Tetro, a.k.a. “The Germ Guy” and host of the Super Awesome Science Show podcast.

“Carleton has had a special place in my heart because it is where I performed my first scientific experiments,” said Tetro, who came to campus as a high school student. In terms of advice, he told the graduates to “always look for the mechanisms” and “keep an open mind, because you never know where life is going to take you.”

Chemistry’s Zoom graduation ceremony featured cheers from faculty members in academic regalia and mortar boards, as well as remarks from undergraduate Benjamin Warnes, who offered a little dance as he sat at his kitchen table. (Watch him at 18:39 in the video.)

“I really want to say thank you to all of the professors and all the staff who made this experience great,” said Warnes, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and won the University Medal in Science.

“I’d like to thank the graduates as well. I had a lot of you guys as TAs and you were great mentors to me and to everybody.”

Special Guests and Dancing GIFs: Fall 2020 Grads Feted in Online Events and Tributes

Supporting our Online Community

The virtual graduation celebrations reflected individual departments’ efforts to maintain and strengthen a sense of community during this difficult time. The Department of Chemistry’s undergraduate programs administrator, Caitlyn McKenzie, says that was a great motivator.

“We wanted to acknowledge this moment and celebrate our students’ tenacity and strength. This pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone. Even though we’ve been separated, we needed to show that we as a community are closer than ever!”

See all of Carleton’s Fall 2020 virtual celebrations on the Grads 2020 website.

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Monday, November 23, 2020 in , ,
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