UC ready to cheer virtual commencement

Pandemic doesn't dampen spirits of graduates as they look to future

The University of Cincinnati will celebrate fall commencement on Dec. 11 and 12 with virtual ceremonies to recognize the accomplishments of more than 2,300 students.

The ceremonies, which will stream live here, will mark UC’s second virtual celebration of its kind during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

A student stands at a microphone on an empty stage with stage lights in the background.

UC student Azaria Pittman-Carter recites a poem during a taped segment for UC's virtual fall commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

UC will host a doctoral hooding and master’s degree recognition ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11. A virtual event will precede the ceremony at 5:30 p.m. with comments and appreciations from graduates to family and friends, called “grad-itudes.”

UC will continue fall commencement at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, with a virtual ceremony recognizing undergraduates, including a 12:30 p.m. pre-ceremony for more "grad-itudes."

“While we wish we could gather to celebrate in person, we hope you enjoy this special recognition of your achievement,” said Melva Karnes, program director for UC's Student Affairs-Commencement. “We continue to be inspired by the strength, resiliency and Bearcat spirit of the class of 2020.”

Graduates and their families are welcome to share their own celebrations over social media using #UCGrad20 or follow UC’s commencement celebration at #UofCincyGrads.

UC will host a Virtual Walk Down Memory Lane all day Wednesday over social media. Grads and their families are invited to share their own experiences over Twitter to @uofcincyGrads.

A pharmacist in a mask, surgical scrubs and gloves draws a vaccine while her reflection is cast on a glass cabinet.

A pharmacist with UC Health prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine that UC Health and the UC College of Medicine tested in a groundbreaking clinical trial in August. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

UC steps up

UC is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. As a national research leader, UC faculty and their students have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in extraordinary ways.

UC Health and the UC College of Medicine helped test the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, which has proven 95% effective in clinical trials.

“Human beings now have hope,” lead investigator and College of Medicine professor Carl Fichtenbaum told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The UC College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Pharmacy joined with Children’s Hospital Medical Center to create the Geospatial Health Advising Group to track the spread of coronavirus across Ohio and the United States. The group published regular public health policy briefs to help health administrators and elected officials make informed decisions about the crisis.

Across all colleges, UC responded to the pandemic in ways big and small. Early in the outbreak, science and engineering departments donated needed personal protective equipment to hospitals. UC’s COVID-19 Design Innovation Team designed new formfitting personal protective equipment for health care workers. UC biologists studied the efficacy of silk material over cotton or synthetics in homemade face masks. 

“To get out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll have to science our way out of it,” said Brett Kissela, MD, senior associate dean in the UC College of Medicine. “And the way to do that is through research.”

Kissela explained how UC researchers are addressing the pandemic in this UC Answers video.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/9WYr5CHQ_gU?rel=0

About the fall 2020 class

UC’s 2020 fall commencement class consists of 2,348 students earning 2,457 degrees. Some UC programs allow students to earn dual degrees. The class includes 186 associate degrees, 1,315 bachelor’s degrees, 827 master’s degrees, 124 doctoral degrees and five professional degrees.

Nearly 400 of the graduates are first-generation college students. One hundred are U.S. veterans or dependents of veterans. Another 61 are graduates of Cincinnati Public Schools.

Twenty students will celebrate their birthday during commencement. 

While 62% of the graduating class are from Ohio, the fall graduates come from 48 countries on six continents, including Australia, India, Colombia, Jordan, China, Ethiopia, Norway and Indonesia. In the United States, UC graduates hail from 48 states. (New Hampshire and Maine don’t know what they’re missing.)

The youngest graduate is 18; the oldest, 67, both earning a bachelor’s degree. Women make up about 56% of the fall 2020 class.

UC student Querida Gyimah poses with her family.

Querida Gyimah, center, will celebrate UC's virtual commencement with a Zoom party with family in the United Kingdom and Ghana. Photo/Provided

Global celebration

UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Querida Gyimah will have an international following at commencement. She plans to host a Zoom graduation party for family in Atlanta, Ghana and England.

“It would have been a trek for them to come to Cincinnati, so this is kind of advantageous for us. We can watch it virtually,” she said. “It’s a silver lining.”

Gyimah, a neuroscience major, will celebrate receiving a second bachelor’s degree at UC’s commencement after earning a degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She wants to pursue a career in medicine after working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the opiate crisis in rural Appalachia.

“That opened my eyes to the disparities in access to public health in rural areas,” she said. “If I referred people for HIV or hepatitis C treatment, they would have to travel for hours to get medical attention.”

Gyimah said at UC she was given a chance to work on a neuroscience research project relating to addiction.

“It was perfectly aligned with what I wanted to study,” she said. “The opportunities are endless here. I’m really grateful to the staff and faculty. They encouraged me to pursue my research interests.”

A student in a UC Bearcat T-shirt and a facemask walks past the neon Cincinnati Bearcats signs at the entrance to Fifth Third Arena.

UC student Azaria Pittman-Carter takes the stage at an empty Fifth Third Arena to recite a poem during UC's 2020 summer commencement. Photo/UC Creative + Brand

First in family

Tyla Thompson, a liberal arts major, will celebrate commencement in Cincinnati with her family. She is a first-generation college student who has faced unthinkable challenges. Her mother suffered a fatal heart attack when Thompson was 9. Her father, Donald Hill, raised her and her five brothers and sisters.

“I’m beyond proud of her,” Hill said. “She is showing me she’s got what it takes to succeed. She doesn’t let obstacles get in her way. Her mom would be very proud.”

Tyla Thompson celebrates with confetti in front of McMicken Hall.

Liberal arts major Tyla Thompson is one of nearly 400 first-generation college students who will graduate from UC this fall. Photo/Provided

Thompson, a Cincinnati Public Schools graduate, worked a part-time job at a day care center to put herself through college while taking on a full course load.

“I was taking 18 credit hours to graduate this semester. There were times I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

Thompson wants to work in education, perhaps as a guidance counselor. She studied minority health, sociology and early childhood education in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Nationwide, fewer first-generation college students make it to graduation compared to students who have college graduate role models in their families. Thompson said the support of her classmates in Impact House, a UC residence hall for first-generation college students, helped her persevere through the rough patches.

“We were very friendly. If anyone needed something, someone had it,” she said. “Once I asked for tea in the group chat and a classmate brought me a box. We definitely looked out for each other.”

Thompson said this support made all the difference.

“One thing we all have in common is we know that our children will not be first-generation college students,” she said.

Students kneel during a protest for Black Lives Matter.

UC students lead a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Cincinnati in June, joining a national conversation on social justice. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

A challenging year

The global pandemic forced universities across the country to respond quickly to keep students and faculty safe. UC faculty leaned on technology and innovation to keep courses on track, while students rose to the challenge of remote learning.

UC students took part in national protests for social justice, leading peaceful demonstrations in Cincinnati.

An empty Bearcat Cafe in March.

UC shifted to remote classes in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. On-campus learning resumed in the fall, but most students continued to take virtual or hybrid courses. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Despite the biggest health crisis in generations, UC began the academic year in 2020 with record enrollment — its eighth straight year of increasing the student body.

One reason UC continues to attract student interest is its nationally renowned cooperative education program or co-op. UC ranks third in the nation for co-ops and internships, topping schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke and Stanford universities. Among public universities, UC is No. 1 for co-op in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.

UC co-op students collectively earn $75 million per year at 1,300 international employers in alternating semesters of study and work tied to their majors. UC continues to place students in positions with business partners despite the pandemic.

“Even before the pandemic, we recognized and anticipated that work needs would increasingly rely on virtual or hybrid semi-virtual environments,” said Gisela Escoe, dean of UC’s Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education. “That foresight is allowing us to quickly expand capacity on a foundation that already existed.”

Meanwhile, UC students continue to pursue their dreams undaunted and undeterred. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recognized UC this year for posting a record graduation rate among student-athletes at 94%. This exceeded the national average of 90%.

All 14 of the Bearcats’ teams achieved a graduation success rate of 85% or higher. Seven UC teams had 100% success in earning diplomas.

Featured image at top: The UC Bearcat is ready to celebrate UC's 2020 fall commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

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