Virtual UMD Commencement Still One to Remember, Graduates Say

2300 graduated online, with video speeches and a slideshow.

DULUTH, Minn.- About 2,300 seniors graduated from UMD this year, but they’re listening to pomp and circumstance in their own homes, virtually.

“Being a family of five we just try and make it as special as we can,”  said Music Education major Hunter Hamby. “We know we can’t emulate the big celebration sort of thing.”

That big celebration would normally pack an arena. “Seeing AMSOIL Arena filled with graduates and their friends and family is just amazing so I just, I very much miss that,” Chancellor Lendley Black said.

“Even though it was virtual it was still a special day,” he said.

Along with video addresses, the University system sent commencement programs and gift boxes to seniors.

“That’s what the UofM did is try to make the best of it,” said Lauren Hibbard. “Try to give students that sense of accomplishment and closure and support.”

For some graduates, making the commencement virtual did not make it any less monumental. “This day was super important to me,” Ayah Abuserrieh said.

“Like, I’m a first generation college student, first to graduate from my family,” said the Philosophy and Political Science Double major. “It’s definitely not the same like having everybody all together but it’s still didn’t take away the emotions that we feel, the pride that we have.”

That accomplishment came with the help of friends and faculty gained over the last four years.

“I’ve struggled a lot like in the classroom and being able to connect like with my professors and advisors. I had the support like from faculty and staff to always help me,” she said, choking up. “Happy tears, I promise, happy tears.”

“I made so any lifelong friends from just being with the marching band before school started and that really set me up for a great career going down over the past four years,” said Hamby.

But these college careers did get turned upside down when the pandemic hit. “This semester I was actually student teaching,” he said.

“The second half I was at Duluth East High School and I started at Duluth East High School–and I was there for two days and then everything shut down.” Hamby, like many others, were forced to make adjustments to every aspect of their life.

“I think it speaks to what higher education is all about and what we intend to do,” Chancellor Black said. “We help educate our students and provide them skills and knowledge to help them be adaptable, helps them to be critical thinkers, helps them to be resilient.”

“It has prepared me for the oddball things that life throws at you,” said Hamby.

Now these students are taking the resilience they earned in unprecedented times into the future. “I will be taking a year off before I apply for law school,” Abuserrieh said.

“I got accepted into the University of Missouri in Columbia for a Graduate program in Trombone performance,” said Hamby.

Meanwhile Hibbard–who majored Hispanic, Latin American, and International Studies–is branching out a bit farther.

“I got accepted into the Peace Corps and I will be serving in Paraguay for two years,” she said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least a little scary. I’m just going to try and embrace the uncertainty at this point.”

But one thing is certain: “You did it,” said Abuserrieh to her fellow classmates. “You did it, congratulations.” Virtual or not, they completed a milestone.

“I don’t think one day or one moment is really defining of the past four years,” Hibbard said.

These graduates persevered to the end of this book, to start the real first chapter.

“This isn’t the end,” said Hamby, “this is only the beginning of your life.”

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