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Apart today but united forever as Bearcats

UC graduates celebrate first virtual commencement amid pandemic

The University of Cincinnati on Friday and Saturday celebrated its first virtual commencement to honor the graduating spring and summer classes of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UC recognized 8,357 students hailing from 73 countries and all 50 states. UC conferred 8,807 degrees, including 428 doctorates, 252 professional degrees, 2,428 master’s degrees, 5,036 bachelor’s degrees and 636 associate’s degrees.

UC was among universities across the country that postponed commencement ceremonies in the wake of the international health crisis. UC acknowledged the work and dedication of summer and spring graduates in the class of 2020.

The pre-recorded program opened fittingly to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” with drone footage of UC’s Uptown campus.

Gregory Loving, chair of the UC faculty, served as commencement marshal, introducing UC College-Conservatory of Music graduate Antonio Cruz, who sang the national anthem from the 50-yard-line of Nippert Stadium.

“As you know, we cannot gather in person to mark you graduation today. Instead, we are convening digitally to celebrate your remarkable achievement,” UC President Neville Pinto said in his commencement address.

Miss the ceremony?

You can rewatch UC's virtual commencement celebration on UC's Commencement Page.

A UC student recites a poem in front of a microphone on stage in an empty Fifth Third Arena.

UC student Azaria Pittman-Carter recites a poem she wrote for the occasion to an empty Fifth Third Arena during a taped segment to air during UC's virtual commencement. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

In his address, Pinto spoke of both the nation’s ongoing health crisis along with the civil rights protests that have swept the country. He urged graduates to respond to these challenges by remaining humble, embracing the value of knowledge, recognizing we are connected to the rest of the world and taking steps to ensure equality.

“While today’s challenges are testing us as never before, be assured, class of 2020, that you will come through this just as generations who preceded you survived and thrived past their own crises,” Pinto said.

You, too, will prove to the world the greatness of your generation through your strength, your perseverance, your leadership, your knowledge and your compassion.

Neville Pinto, UC President

Pinto also referenced a Scandinavian concept called "hygge," which refers to taking pleasure in soothing things that make one feel cozy or content.

"This is a Danish word we all have been testing during the lock-down," Pinto said. "Hopefully this experience has reminded us to unplug and enjoy life."

He compared the challenges facing today's graduates to those faced by their great-grandparents during World War II and the Great Depression.

"Your hard work and your degree have prepared you well for the future," Pinto said. "Class of 2020, you, too, will prove to the world the greatness of your generation through your strength, your perseverance, your leadership, your knowledge and your compassion."

UC Board of Trustees President Ronald D. Brown congratulated the graduating class.

“As trustees, our No. 1 priority is your success – to see you graduate and complete the degree that you have worked so hard to achieve,” Brown said. “And to use your University of Cincinnati degree to achieve your goals after you graduate.

“On a personal note, as a UC alumnus myself, I would like to welcome you into our family of over 315,000 alumni,” he said. “Go Bearcats!”

Rows of screens show the Bearcat Band playing together but in social isolation.

UC's Bearcat Band played the UC Alma Mater in social-distancing style to close Friday's commencement.

Presidential honors

Pinto recognized this year's Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence winners:

  • College of Arts and Sciences graduate Nana Agyeman (neurobiology). 
  • College of Arts and Sciences graduate Din Selmanovic (neuroscience).
  • Lindner College of Business graduate Angela Brown (dual marketing and information systems).
  • College of Medicine graduate Farhan Ilyas (medical science).

On Friday, Pinto recognized UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Crystal Whetstone, recipient of the 2020 Presidential Medal of Graduate Student Excellence. Whetstone earned a Ph.D. in political science.

Pinto also honored Christopher Sullivan, director of graduate studies in UC’s School of Criminal Justice. He is 2020 recipient of the Graduate School’s Excellence in Mentoring of Doctoral Students Award.

“Dr. Sullivan is recognized for his supportive role in guiding his students through their doctoral programs,” Pinto said. “Many students he has mentored have gone on to be professors themselves making significant contributions in their chosen fields across the country.”

The Bearcat wearing a cap and gown stands alone in the middle of a soccer field while a drone captures him throwing caps in the air.

The UC Bearcat took part in UC's virtual commencement.

Celebrations around country

While UC students and families obviously would have preferred to celebrate their class together at Fifth Third Arena, that didn’t dampen the spirits of the many private celebrations that took place around the country.

Alex Walker sits in front of a laptop in his graduation cap and gown and doctoral hood.

UC doctoral graduate Alex Walker sits at a laptop in Sandusky, Ohio, during a family viewing party for UC's virtual commencement. Photo/Provided

Dennis and Darlene Walker celebrated their son Alex’s graduation at their home in Sandusky, Ohio.

Alex Walker graduated with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Upon graduation, he began working for one of his co-op employers, Sierra Lobo, Inc.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s really good at math,” his father said.

“We’re extremely proud,” his mother said. “We know how hard he worked for this.”

They played host to a private viewing party of UC's virtual commencement with a few close family.

“We set up computers with TV screens,” Darlene Walker said. “I’ll surprise him when he comes in and have Alexis play ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’”

Emily and Oran Woolcock raise glasses to toast Camille Sullivan upon her graduation from UC.

Proud mom Dr. Emily Woolcock and her husband, Oran, toast her daughter, Camille Sullivan, during a private UC commencement viewing party in Gaithersburg, Md. Photo/Provided

Several states away in Gaithersburg, Md., Dr. Emily Woolcock watched UC’s virtual commencement from her home during a private viewing party. Her daughter, Camille Sullivan, earned a Ph.D. and M.D. from UC’s College of Medicine. Sullivan is following her mother’s footsteps into orthopedic medicine.

Sullivan dressed in her cap and gown for the virtual commencement and joined her mother's party over Zoom from her home in Cincinnati.

Woolcock said her daughter had been looking forward to the hooding ceremony but made the most of the socially distanced celebration. Woolcock described her daughter as conscientious, hard-working and wise beyond her years.

“This was special,”  Woolcock said. “We watched her defend her dissertation, which was spectacular. She did a great job. I love her. I'm so proud of her.”

Camille Sullivan tosses her cap in the air while wearing her graduation robe in a back yard garden.

UC doctoral student Camille Sullivan tosses her cap in the air during her off-campus graduation celebration with family. Sullivan earned a Ph.D. and M.D. from UC's College of Medicine. Photo/Provided

UC's 2020 Summer Grads

UC will honor more than 1,900 summer graduates at its virtual commencement. The university will confer 145 associates degrees, 661 bachelor's degrees, 1,024 master's degrees and 163 doctoral degrees. (Some students have earned multiple degrees.)

The graduates represent 43 countries as far away as Australia, South Korea, China, India and Zimbabwe. The average age of UC's doctoral class is 34 while the average bachelor's graduate is 28.

Among the summer graduates is 101 U.S. military veterans or their dependents. And 277 students are first-generation graduates.

UC's 2020 Spring Grads

UC also will confer 6,814 degrees upon approximately 6,500 spring graduates. (Some graduates have earned multiple degrees.) Among them are 491 associate's degrees, 4,402 bachelor's degrees, 1,404 master's degrees, 265 doctoral degrees and 252 professional degrees.

The spring 2020 graduates hail from 47 states and 63 countries, including Canada, France, Greece and Cuba.

The oldest graduate is 68 while the youngest is just 18. Nearly 200 graduates attended Cincinnati Public Schools. And 976 students are first-generation college graduates.

Ohio's graduates come from 83 of the state's 88 counties.

A girl wearing a face mask walks in front of the neon Bearcats sign from the locker room entrance at Fifth Third Arena.

UC student Azaria Pittman-Carter walks onto center court of an empty Fifth Third Arena to recite a poem she wrote for 2020 graduates during UC's virtual commencement.

UC Grad Brags

“Coming from France, I had a chance to attend UC for my MBA in 2019. One year later, I fell in love with Cincinnati and the extraordinary classmates I met there. I’m so glad to become a Bearcat for life!”

– Tommy Bourbigot, UC Lindner College of Business

“Even though my journey was a short year-and-a-half, I very much enjoyed the ride. I will miss being on campus (virtually) and all of my program professors. We will definitely keep in touch. Occupational Therapy is a very small profession and I will see you all very soon out in the field.”

– Kristine Frogge, UC College of Allied Health Sciences

“I have been dreaming of being a physical therapist since I was 12 years old. I finally made it! I attended UC for my undergraduate and doctoral degrees. Thank you to my parents, professors, boyfriend, friends and everyone along the way who has supported me, guided me, encouraged me and motivated me. Let’s celebrate!”

– Lobke Huijs, UC College of Allied Health Sciences

“Congratulations to the class of 2020! As Harper Lee wrote, ‘She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.’”

– Hayley Westmeyer, master’s of nursing-family nurse practitioner, UC College of Nursing

A tweet from Opi Opi reads has two photos of a UC grad in a doctoral hood and regalia hugging two children with the caption: #UCGrad2020 M.S. criminal justice. #Bearcats #UC
A tweet featuring UC's cat-paw logo reads: It started with a question: where do you want to take your career? This made me decide it was time to go back to school to get my master's. Today I have officially earned my master's degree from the University of Cincinnati! Thank you @Woody0709 @emilywiper for asking that question.

UC graduates celebrated commencement on social media.

Dennis and Darlene Walker pose for a photo with their son, Alex, who is dressed in his cap and gown and doctoral regalia.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science doctoral graduate Alex Walker poses with his parents, Dennis and Darlene, at their home in Sandusky, Ohio, while having a viewing party of UC's virtual commencement. Photo/Provided

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