The first ever University of Oregon virtual commencement was held on Saturday.
The ceremony included recorded congratulatory messages from noted alumni including Marcus Mariota, Ann Curry, Daniel Wu, and Joey Harrington. Graduates were serenaded by Eugene native Mat Kearney who was joined by students from the University’s music ensembles to perform Kearney’s “Coming Home (Oregon)” anthem, a mainstay at University events.
2020 graduating student Genevieve Middleton, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, provided an acknowledgement that the University of Oregon is located on Kalapuya Ilihi, the traditional homeland of the traditional Kalapuya people. She thanked the Kalapuya for their "continued hospitality, stewardship, and inspiration."
UO President Michael Schill took the opportunity to acknowledge the unprecedented way this year’s class is celebrating their achievements and he noted that the missed milestones at the end of their final year shouldn’t take away from their accomplishments:
“You should have spent the spring shoulder to shoulder with classmates in labs, classrooms and studios, sipping coffee in the fishbowl, going to your last street faire, attending late night cram sessions in Knight Library, soaking up the sun on the quad, or on the steps of the EMU amphitheater, taking in your final memories of our beautiful campus. Instead you sat at kitchen counters, on couches, and in your bedrooms, scattered across the country and world, laptops open, a checkerboard of students and professors on Zoom. Far apart, but brought together by a technology and a shared quest to achieve the most valuable accreditation you can receive to better your life and our world- a college degree.”
Oregon alum and benefactor Phil Knight received an honorary doctorate during the ceremony- only the 4th such honor the university has awarded.
Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) President Sabinna Pierre, a member of the Class of 2020, addressed her classmates. Pierre acknowledged that the world "has been turned upside down, and we have been faced with challenges to rise to the occasion each and every day." She said she and her fellow classmates "hold the keys to shape the world and it's time for us, as people, to start making some changes, especially in the way we treat each other. The old way wasn't working and hasn't been."
Oregon basketball star and 2020 graduate Sabrina Ionescu was the keynote speaker. In her address she lamented the sudden end to the school year:
“We have all lost something. For me, it was my college basketball dream, but for you, it may have been something else. Maybe you were the first person in your family to graduate, maybe you overcame a learning disability, or perhaps you are a non-traditional student that just finished something you never thought was possible. This is hard and it is not what any of us wanted, but for each of us, this still counts. It still matters and we still earned it. COVID cannot take that away.”
Ionescu recognized the far reaches of Oregon’s graduates. She said “I am honored to have worn Oregon on my uniform, proud to have earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees here, and am forever connected to each and every one of you as part of this amazing family of Ducks across the globe.”
A video of graduates (and The Duck) dancing to "Shout," and a slideshow of students' graduation social media posts was played before the ceremony ended. The conclusion was of Ionescu taking a half-court shot after stepping off the podium in Matthew Knight Arena. As apropos as it seems, the shot went in.
The virtual ceremony was announced in April, after the traditional in-person commencement was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduates from the 2020 class and their families are invited to participate in next spring’s in-person commencement in June, 2021. The two classes will each receive distinct recognition as they celebrate together in what will be the largest graduation ceremony ever at the UO.
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