Nearly 2,000 brand-new University of Northern Iowa graduates are expected to gather Thursday for a commencement ceremony unlike any in UNI history.
Instead of crossing a stage at the McLeod Center this weekend to receive their degree, the Class of 2020 will celebrate their achievements online. Social distancing guidelines amid a global coronavirus pandemic have left US universities little choice but to move their commencement ceremonies off campus.
When the commencement site goes live after noon Thursday, graduates will find a recorded speech from UNI President Mark A. Nook along with student photos, quotes and a list of their achievements. In his videotaped speech to students, Nook praised the “spirit of community” that defines UNI and sustains it even when a public health crisis upends campus life.
“Commencement is our most cherished ceremony because it is about celebrating you, our students,” Nook said. “We know the loss you feel in not being able to be on campus and celebrate this time.”
Throughout the semester, Nook has praised students for their sacrifice for the greater good. Provost Jim Wohlpart echoed that theme in his address, saying students have had to overcome great obstacles in their final semester.
“I know this semester has been a challenge,” said Wohlpart, UNI’s executive vice president for academic affairs. “This graduating class, the Class of 2020, has demonstrated a level of resilience, determination and hard work that surpasses any other class that has come before you.”
Some traditions continue. As he does each year, Nook congratulated this year’s Lux Service Award winners Farhan Amjad and Mahlia Brown. The award is the most prestigious given by the Office of the Dean of Students each year to honor graduating seniors with a track record of serving others on campus.
Brown, a senior psychology major, was the student government diversity director who advocated for minority and underrepresented students. Amjad, a student government senator, also worked with a campus environmental group promoting sustainable practices and environmental equity in the Cedar Valley community.
For graduates who still wish to celebrate and receive their degree in person, Nook invited graduates to take part in the planned fall and spring commencement ceremonies.