Roughly 800 students — approximately 8.2% of the graduating Class of 2020 — walked the Alumni Arena stage Friday for UB’s first in-person commencement ceremony since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university hosted the Class of 2020 for a belated commencement ceremony last week, roughly 16 months after their intended graduation. Just under 9,400 undergraduate and graduate students graduated in 2020, but only 250 undergrads and 520 grads returned to walk the stage during Homecoming Weekend.
The undergraduate commencement ceremony combined each individual department. The graduate commencement ceremony added the School of Dental Medicine, Graduate School of Education, School of Law and the School of Social Work. In a typical year, commencement ceremonies take place individually by school or college, but this year, they were all consolidated.
Both ceremonies featured student introductions by their respective deans. President Satish Tripathi announced their degree conferrals after each dean and then the graduates were recognized one by one as they walked across the stage.
Davila Tarakinikini, who earned degrees in philosophy and English, says she was “happy to come back and graduate in person.”
Tarakinikini, who was a multimedia editor for The Spectrum in 2019, was born in the Fiji Islands and has since lived around the world. She wore a salusalu, a traditional flower necklace worn when Fijian’s accomplish something great, to the ceremony.
Alexandra Kouptsova, who graduated with a degree in public health, says she was happy UB recognized the graduates virtually in 2020, but was disappointed with the scope of the ceremony.
“I was happy there was some sort of acknowledgement of graduates in 2020 but it was kind of disappointing,” Kouptsova said. “I felt the school gave off the idea it was going to be really grand (in a virtual sense) so a lot of people planned to watch it with their families. It was awkward to see it was just a couple of YouTube video links and PowerPoint slides.
“I didn’t attend [the in-person] [the in-person] commencement because I never got an email about it, I just found out the other day [Oct. 3],” Kouptsova said. “I think it was responsible [to host commencement] but maybe the timing wasn’t the best as it can be jumbled up with Homecoming and weekend activities.”
Students who earned their Ph.D. in 2020 received more recognition, with their theses titles read aloud as they walked across the stage.
Elisabeth Davis, a Ph.D. recipient in History, and Erika Ruhl, a Ph..D. recipient in Anthropology, agreed that commencement gave them closure to their educational journeys.
“I was one of the last two defenses [in person] in my department, just before the pandemic,” Davis said.
“And I was one of the first handful that had to defend via Zoom,” Ruhl said.
“But [the commencement ceremony] gave us closure,” Davis added.
Courtney Way, a J.D. recipient, thought commencement was well executed.
“Honestly, I think they did as best as they could 16 months ago when we had to do it remotely,” Way said of the May 2020 commencement. “But I think that this was a really cool opportunity to bring us in and I appreciated that we mixed all of the graduate schools together. It was really cool to see people with different interests and hear what they wrote their thesis on. I thought it was fantastic.”
The 2020 commencement was moved to an online format after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.
“History will always remember the Class of 2020 for graduating at the height of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. For our part, UB will remember this historic class for demonstrating exceptional innovation, resilience and adaptability during an exceptionally trying time,” Satish Tripathi, UB president said in a statement announcing the ceremony.
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Julie Frey is an assistant news/features editor for The Spectrum.