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UW-Madison Graduates Participate In First Virtual Commencement

Thousands Watch Video Ceremony

Chancellor Rebecca Blank addresses graduates virtually
Chancellor Rebecca Blank addressed graduates and their loved in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s first ever virtual commencement ceremony Saturday, May 9, 2020. Screenshot from Facebook live video

Graduates and their loved ones tuned into the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s first ever virtual commencement ceremony Saturday.

The university has been operating remotely since mid-March, when it canceled in-person classes in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While Badger graduates usually gather in Camp Randall and other campus locations for in-person ceremonies, this year’s ceremony took the form of a pre-recorded video that was posted on a website and on Facebook at noon Saturday.

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The university awarded nearly 8,500 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees this semester.

“You are all graduating into a world that looks very different from the one you planned for,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank, dressed in full graduation regalia. “Just as wars and terrorist attacks shaped your parents’ and grandparents’ generations, this will shape yours.”

Blank said although the graduates are facing a devastating job market and potential personal loss of loved ones to COVID-19, she hopes they will go on to do work that will prevent future pandemics. She also promised to hold an in-person gathering to celebrate the class of 2020 when conditions allow.

Keynote speaker James Patterson, a bestselling author, spoke to the graduates from his kitchen, wearing a UW-Madison graduation robe and baseball cap.

“It’s hard now, but it’s been hard before,” Patterson said, citing his own graduation during the Vietnam War and his father’s graduation during World War II.

Senior class president Lauren Sorenson addressed her fellow graduates in a speech recorded in Bascom Hall.

“This has shown me that you never know when something is going to be your last,” she said, reflecting on her last lecture class and trip to the library before campus closed.

The ceremony video concluded with a performance of “Varsity,” the university’s alma mater song, sung by the MadHatters a cappella group and recorded over Zoom.

The university provided other ways for graduates to celebrate from afar, including virtual backgrounds students can use to make it look like they are on campus while video chatting. Graduates can also upload a photo of themselves to have it edited onto a commemorative UW-Madison-themed background.

The Wisconsin Union gifted all spring and summer 2020 graduates with a free lifetime membership, in acknowledgement of their “fortitude and resilience.”

Other University of Wisconsin campuses have also adjusted plans for traditional commencement ceremonies. UW-Stout held a virtual commencement. UW-Milwaukee, UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Green Bay, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Superior have all announced that commencement will be postponed.

UW-Oshkosh will have a virtual commencement May 16 and an in-person ceremony in December. UW-Parkside plans to honor spring 2020 graduates in December.