Commencement livestream
Professional photographers are capturing each graduate's moment at center stage, and the ceremonies are also being livestreamed. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Students Make the Best of In-Person Commencements

It may not have been their first choice, but new graduates were thankful to walk across a stage and celebrate commencement with family members last week.

“I just felt grateful that we get to have anything in person,” Nicole Johnston, a human development and psychology double major, said as she waited in a line on Hutchison Field to participate in the 8 a.m. processional for undergraduates. “After a long and trying last year of college, I feel grateful that the university was able to put this on.”

Students have felt the impact of the pandemic for more than a year, living with loss and adapting to remote learning, regular COVID-19 screening, face covering requirements and social distancing. But, for at least some graduates, this year’s limited-scale, in-person ceremonies — including 16 that started Wednesday of this week and will continue through Sunday — felt like a glimpse of normalcy.

Family Plays a Key Role

Each commencement was limited to 400 students, each of whom were allowed to bring two guests. Grads and their guests stayed in their own “pods” 6 feet apart from others. Four undergraduate processionals were held on Friday, June 11, five more were held on Saturday and three final ones took place Sunday.

The virtual commencement, for students who chose not to attend the in-person ceremony, featured congratulatory remarks from Gov. Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, UC President Michael V. Drake, Chancellor Gary S. May and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan.

They all praised the Class of 2021 for its resilience.

“Graduating from college is an incredible achievement and a milestone in your life,” May said. “It’s something to be proud of during a normal year, but you accomplished this during the most challenging time our country has ever seen.”

But while there is light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic still impacted students at the commencement processional.

Sarvien Keighobad, a neurobiology, physiology and behavior major who plans to apply to medical school now that she’s graduated, rushed out of The Pavilion to call her parents, who had been watching the livestream from their home in Iran.

They were unable to travel to the United States because of COVID-19, she said.

“It made me sad we couldn’t celebrate,” she said. “It was an emotional week.”

The Larger Picture

Many students kept the event in perspective as they took selfies and posed for photos with friends.

“I’m really grateful that we had this experience, considering what state the world is in,” psychology major Mackenzie Trpcic said.

Alexis Sutherland, also a psychology major, said she was surprised and “really happy” when UC Davis announced the in-person events. Her parents, Joel and Sonja Sutherland, traveled from Corona, in Riverside County, for the event.

“It’s a great achievement,” Joel Sutherland said of his daughter’s new degree.

Other students praised organizers. “They did a good job with the current circumstances to make the event meaningful,” she Mackenzie Davis, a viticulture and enology major.

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  • This story was adapted from a story in Dateline 

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