NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University held a graduation ceremony for its 2020 class using virtual commencement videos on May 31. Current graduates were unable to attend an in-person graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and current social distancing measures in place, so an alternative ceremony was held online. In addition to the videos, which included statements from students and famous figures like scheduled speaker Lester Holt, Senator Cory Booker, and Governor Philip Murphy, there were also slides created for each student and a page created for the Class of 2020.

When COVID-19 began spreading in America, the fate of many set to be graduating this year was uncertain - many graduation ceremonies were canceled, leaving the Class of 2020 confused and uncertain. In-person commencements have for the most part been postponed or canceled entirely, but many colleges, including Rutgers, have been using online alternatives to hold them so that college seniors can receive a proper sendoff. Such is the situation of East Brunswick's Esha Rao.

Some students say that virtual graduation ceremonies are not enough, though, and that they have been denied the graduate experience they were promised. “I did not really enjoy the virtual ceremonies for the larger programs I was a part of because all it really came down to was a live website that showed a slide with my name, major and short message,” said Esha Rao, a Rutgers Navy ROTC Distinguished Honors Graduate. “However, the smaller programs/organizations were quite nice because it was either a Webex or Zoom call with all the staff and students graduating.” Rao noted that while her graduation was special for her, it was mainly due to the efforts of her family and friends - not the remote graduation ceremony that Rutgers held. 

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“It obviously hurt to realize that I would not have a graduation and more importantly a commissioning ceremony for becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy,” she commented, “but I know that it was and continues to be for the benefit of others and the world.”

With many summer jobs and internships also canceled due to the pandemic, it is unclear what the future holds for the Class of 2020. “Knowing that I am starting my career as a U.S. Navy Nuclear Submarine Officer during a pandemic is definitely quite frightening and strange to say the least, but I know that as long as I follow the proper guidelines for my state of residence then I am doing my part in helping this situation de-escalate,” Rao said of the current circumstances. “Though the pandemic changed my end of college experience, it did not take away the hard work and dedication that I have put in over these 3.75 years and the skills I will take with me into the real world now.”

Rutgers has posted all of its commencement videos at commencement.rutgers.edu, where they can all be viewed individually.