Here’s to the Class of 2020! Elon’s newest graduates celebrate with online conferral ceremony

Though driven apart by the global COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Class of 2020 came together online on Friday, May 22, with their friends, families and Elon faculty and staff to celebrate all they have accomplished during the past four years and receive their degrees.

Elon University welcomed more than 1,400 students to its alumni ranks on Friday, May 22, during a special degree-conferral ceremony. Unable to gather on campus for an in-person commencement ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2020 joined together online at noon to share in a video ceremony featuring remarks from President Connie Ledoux Book as well as campus and student leaders along with special musical performances.

In her remarks to the Class of 2020, President Book offered encouragement to these new graduates as they complete their Elon education and begin a new chapter in their lives, with that transition coming during a time heavy with uncertainty and disruption. Rather than seeking a return to normal, Book implored them to move forward to “new,” equipped with a better understanding of what is essential, many renewed and strengthened bonds with family and friends, a greater awareness of those in need, and an understanding of the power of research and innovation.”

“Embrace going forward into the unknown with the new knowledge and understanding that this pandemic is teaching us,” Book said. “I charge you today to be stronger with your new knowledge, richer with your new understanding, ready for your new future.”

Nearly four years ago, these more than 1,400 members of the Class of 2020 began their journeys at Elon gathered Under the Oaks at New Student Convocation, embarking on academic, personal and professional paths that have carried them through to the completion of their degrees and the start of a new phase in their lives. None could foresee that their time at Elon would conclude with them driven apart by a global pandemic that forced a shift to online learning in March and made it impossible to hold an in-person commencement this spring, an event that typically draws thousands together on campus.

On Friday, members of the graduating class donned their caps and gowns from their homes around the country and the world to share in the online celebration. Many were surrounded at home by family members and pets, joined digitally by distant relatives and friends, all tuned in to share in this special moment.

“Two months ago, our lives and the world around us suddenly came to a halt, forcing us to change what we consider ‘normal,'” said Noor Irshaidat ’20, senior class president, in her remarks during the ceremony. “Although these months have been marked by heartbreak, we must take the time to acknowledge how resilient the Class of 2020 has been in the face of adversity.”

Laura Rossi ’20, senior class vice president, noted how she and her fellow students adapted to online learning, restructured how they approach self-care and continued to foster relationships with friends and mentors remotely. What they all have been through this spring doesn’t undermine all they’ve accomplished during the past four years — show-stopping performances, career-building research, championship titles and incredible professional careers.

“For many of us, Elon has redefined the meaning of ‘home,” Rossi said, joining Irshaidat in delivering remarks for the ceremony. “It is the feeling you get as you walk around this campus each and every day. It is the feeling you get when your professor takes the time to check in on you. It is the feeling you get when you sit down to have dinner with your roommates, like I did with Noor. It is the feeling you get when you step onto the court, the field or the track, surrounded by teammates. It is the feeling you get when you’re at Elon.”

Irshaidat reminded her classmates that the conferral ceremony is not the end, but rather a beginning, and not the last time they will be together. Friday’s event was not meant to take the place of an in-person commencement, with members of the Class of 2020 to gather in the future for a full celebration of their accomplishments and their time at Elon. Details on that celebration are still taking shape, and will be announced at a later date.

“We will find ourselves together again at this magnificent campus to honor the Class of 2020 and to continue celebrating these relationships and these moments as we deserve,” Rossi said. “Until then, we hope that you carry your degree with pride and remember the strong support system you still have here at Elon.”

“We will find ourselves together again at this magnificent campus to honor the Class of 2020 and to continue celebrating these relationships and these moments as we deserve.”

— Laura Rossi ’20

In her welcome, Book asked these graduating seniors to close their eyes and remember — that special place on campus, the faculty mentor who pushed them to new heights, that staff member who supported them, and those friends and classmates who were there for them, and will continue to be there for them.

“I want you to remember that no matter what life hands you, no matter all the moments — and there will be plenty — when things don’t go the way we plan, when life hands us what we think we can’t handle,” Book said, “and in this moment, I want you to remember that you have people who care about you, who are there for you, and who will be there to pick you up when you need it, and to cheer on your next success.”

Deans of Elon’s undergraduate schools — Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communications, the School of Education and the Love School of Business — offered words of congratulations to the Class of 2020, noting that these Elon students have been called upon to make meaning of the current crisis and to learn from these historic events. In their remarks, they expressed their pride in what members of this class have accomplished, and how they will apply what they have learned and experienced to their lives ahead.

Throughout the ceremony, a social media wall captured posts by friends and family members of the Class of 2020 along with those by Elon faculty and staff offering their congratulations and demonstrating their pride in what these students have achieved.

Singing the national anthem for the ceremony was Ross Cohen ’20 and the Elon alma mater, typically performed by a member of the graduating class, was performed by a virtual choir of 30 seniors from the Music Department and Music Theatre program. The virtual performance featured an arrangement by Dan Gibson ’08 and was organized by Senior Lecturer in Music Polly Cornelius.

As she prepared to conclude the ceremony, Book reminded the Class of 2020 that they will forever be a part of Elon’s history for the way they responded during these unprecedented and transformative times.

“When we tell the story of Elon to future generations, we will tell the story of a time when we opened ourselves up to each other, to a new method of learning, to responding to what the world needed, and of a time when we persevered,” Book said. “A time when we each did what we needed to do to weather the crisis and that in each action, we held true to Elon’s values, and are stronger as a result.”

A complete list of the graduating class, as well as their honors and awards can be found on a special conferral ceremony site that also includes the ceremony, Class of 2020 stories, the social media wall and digital swag.