UC grads look to bright future during virtual commencement

Apart for now, UC graduates are forever united as Bearcats

The University of Cincinnati celebrated fall commencement Saturday with a virtual ceremony to recognize more than 2,300 graduates.

The online ceremony marked UC's second virtual celebration of its kind during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

"As you know, we had hoped that by now we could all be together in Fifth Third Arena to celebrate your graduation," UC President Neville Pinto told graduates during his address.

"Distance and space may still separate us; yet we are joined in our common sense of happiness and pride at your remarkable achievement today."

In his commencement address, Pinto touched on the importance of being kind to others.

“No doubt, each of you has experienced kindness that made a difference in your own life. You know how powerful that can be,” he said.

He quoted “Turn of the Screw” author Henry James’ advice about the three most important rules of life.

“The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind,” Pinto said. “Congratulations, again, class of 2020. Be kind to one another.”

Board of Trustees President Ronald D. Brown said commencement marks a major milestone for students, who now join 315,000 Bearcat alumni around the world.

“As graduates, you will long remember the trials of this year. But know that these times will soon be over,” Brown told the graduates. “As the saying goes, these challenges have brought darkest hours which reveal to all of us the true strength of the brilliant light within you that can never be dimmed.”

Azaria Pittman-Carter, a student in UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology, gave a reading of an original poem she wrote for UC’s commencement.

“Live life and live young. Live courageously and live loud. Speak up and speak out. This next story is yours. You just have to claim it,” she said.

The commencement opened with a drone tour of UC's campus to the familiar strains of "Pomp and Circumstance."

UC College-Conservatory of Music student Victoria Popritkin performed the National Anthem and sang the alma mater with the UC Bearcat Band.

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

Azaria Pittman-Carter sits on stage at Fifth-Third Arena.

UC student Azaria Pittman-Carter on Friday read a poem she wrote for the occasion during UC's virtual commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

About the fall 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.

Perseverance pays off

Marci Mason took a nontraditional path to this weekend’s commencement, where she will celebrate a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

The 50-year-old Head Start teacher began taking UC distance-learning classes from her home in Cleveland more than 15 years ago. In 2014, she earned her associate’s degree from UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology.

“It started with my just wanting to gain more knowledge about early childhood education. I liked learning and getting new resources. I wasn’t sure I would finish,” she said.

Marci Mason wears her cap and gown.

UC graduate Marci Mason persevered to complete her degree. Photo/Provided

Those first classes weren’t much different from today’s virtual classrooms, made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Except back then I would get a huge box of VHS tapes of lectures from UC each week,” she said. 

The VHS tapes soon became DVDs and eventually links to online videos. Most recently, she took part in streaming web classes that have become the norm this year.

She would take notes from the video lectures and participate in classroom discussion boards. Despite the daily obstacles of working and raising a family, Mason continued her education one or two classes at a time in her quest for a bachelor’s degree.

“It was definitely a nontraditional path to graduation. I would stay out a year and then come back and take a couple more classes or summer classes,” she said.

“I was motivated. I just knew getting my bachelor’s degree was something I wanted to do,” she said. 

She and her family will host a Zoom graduation party with her siblings who live out of state. Mason said her husband, Andre, has been especially supportive. He insisted she buy a cap and gown to commemorate her accomplishment.

“He said, ‘You earned that!’ So I’ll be wearing my cap and gown on Saturday,” she said.

Querida Gyimah, center, 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.”

UC grad Tyla Thompson celebrates graduation with confetti on the steps of McMicken Hall.

First in famly

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.”

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.

Featured image at top: UC graduate Jailee Curry poses for a photo in her cap and gown on UC's Uptown campus for her mother, Leanne Dudley. Curry is a criminal justice major in UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology. Photo/Michael Miller

A UC student sings the alma mater in front of a projected decorative image.

UC College-Conservatory of Music student Victoria Popritkin sings UC's Alma Mater during Saturday's virtual commencement.

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