What a difference a year and a pandemic make: UVA Wise holds virtual commencement

Mike Still • May 9, 2020 at 3:21 PM

WISE — A lot can happen in a year, as the University of Virginia’s College at Wise showed Saturday in adapting commencement to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fifty-two weeks earlier, rain drenched the UVA Wise campus as University of Virginia President James Ryan visited for a wet, early morning run and later giving the keynote address for the college’s graduates at the David J. Prior Convocation Center.

This weekend, the skies were clear and the campus empty because of the pandemic, but approximately 250 graduates crowded the college’s Facebook page to shift their virtual mortarboard tassels as they became the Class of 2020.

Chancellor Donna Henry — clad in academic regalia — told graduates that Saturday’s ceremony marked a combination of celebration and tragedy.

“I must acknowledge the great sense of loss created by this global pandemic,” Henry said. “Some of you have lost loved ones, neighbors, and friends. Please know that you have my deepest sympathies and condolences. I know they would be proud of your achievements and would celebrate you today, too.”

Henry said the losses from a semester changed from in-person classes to online lectures and Zoom meetings included several regular on-campus plays, musical performances, festivals, study breakfasts, research presentations and the smells of springtime on campus.

“You’ve experienced the loss of final hurrahs with friends and the loss of final words of wisdom, encouragement and appreciation spoken between teacher and student,” Henry said.

“We, the faculty and staff, have missed you,” Henry said. “But there is a silver lining. It’s called character. Character has poured into our virtual classrooms. Character lights up this campus even while you are away. It’s palpable. It comes in the form of patience, generosity, perseverance, resilience, strength, and unity.”

College Student Government Association President Mason Phillips told the virtual audience that they had persevered through the pandemic and through the challenges of a semester forced into a remote online experience.

“You stayed connected with your classmates and professors, you continued to grind through your classes when they were converted to an online format, and you kept your spirits high even when we were all removed from our normal routine,” Phillips said. “With all of this adversity, it would’ve been very easy to quit. But you didn’t. You made it.”

Henry also congratulated the class’ two Army ROTC commissioned second lieutenants, Patrick Andrew Brooks and Catherine Margaret Hope Dina.

After reminding graduates of plans for an on-campus commencement ceremony on Oct. 4, Henry — with a video inset of a student wearing his mortarboard and shifting his tassel from right to left — conferred degrees to the Class of 2020.

The site administrator has disabled comments for this story.