Reimagining Commencement: Groundbreaking Virtual Event Connects 2020 Grads

May 20, 2020

by FSC Staff

The reviews are in — arriving as real-time comments during live streams on social media outlets — regarding Florida Southern ’s Spring Virtual Commencement ceremony on Sat., May 16, 2020.

This unprecedented special event was organized as an alternative to the traditional in-person ceremony originally scheduled for May 2. It was shared remotely through the College’s website and on YouTube and Facebook to prioritize the safety of students, families, faculty, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"wow this is beautiful "
Mildred Cosme

"Brings back wonderful memories! I graduated in 1987 and my daughter graduated in 2016! Congratulations Class of 2020!"
Judy Killam, Class of 1987

"So good to see my first FSC commencement since 1992 since I live out of the area. Congrats graduates and FSC administration for adapting to the unique challenges. Go Mocs."
Don Brittenham, Class of 1989

"In person or virtual, I ’m still crying."
Shari Szabo, Dean of Student Success

"A beautiful, moving Virtual Commencement!!"
Dr. Rebecca Saulsbury Bravard, Associate Professor of English

"Congratulations to all!! What an achievement!!"
Dr. Katherine Loh, Assistant Professor of Communication

"Well done, FSC! Go MOCS!!!"
Betsy Koepnick

Overwhelmingly, the comments on social media were personal messages of congratulations to the graduates from their proud and loving family members, friends, faculty, and fellow students. Florida Southern ’s virtual commencement reached almost 30,000 people on Facebook within just five days of its posting, and was viewed nearly 5,000 times on YouTube in less than a day. A high of nearly 1,800 people were watching the live stream at a given moment.

"Congratulations Justin we ’re proud of you!!! Love mom and dad"
Lee Kieslor

"So very proud of Allison Huffstickler, my sweet granddaughter"
Roni Thomas Durrwachter

"Go Daniel! Missing you from Spain!"
Javier Rodriguez Diaz

​"Congratulations to all the 2020 graduates!!!! What a year it ’s been."
Elizabeth Espasa Pappaceno

"I can ’t hear you guys clapping! Let ’s make some noise!!"
Matt Faller, Class of 2020

"Best wishes for successful careers and fulfilling lives. Go be great! πŸŽ“πŸŽ‰"
Keely Hiers Chestnut

Commencement honors

Although the ceremony ’s format was unconventional, FSC ’s administration, staff, and faculty worked together to create a meaningful and memorable commencement experience for students earning their undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. Speakers commended members of the Class of 2020 for achieving so much while confronting the challenges of a senior year that required distance learning and many unexpected academic and personal sacrifices.

In her introduction for Senior Speaker Peter Edgar, FSC President Dr. Anne Kerr announced that Edgar was the recipient of the first annual Joe P. Ruthven Award for Outstanding Leadership and Civic Engagement. Ruthven, a former mayor of the City of Lakeland and a Florida Southern Trustee, died in December 2019.

Edgar, a Hollingsworth Scholar and Honor Student who also served as editor of FSC ’s student newspaper, The Southern, asked his fellow classmates: "Is this how we ’re going to be remembered, as the Class of COVID-19? Are we going to let a virus erase the memories we have made over the past four years?" He offered a broad array of examples of school-related activities and accomplishments that genuinely represent who they are and how their college experience has prepared them for what lies ahead.

FSC Provost Dr. Brad Hollingshead presented the Miller Distinguished Faculty Award to Dr. Lori Rakes, an associate professor of education. The annual award recognizes the work of a faculty member who has achieved excellence in teaching, scholarly productivity, and advising. Dr. Rakes, who teaches across the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs, "engages students by directly incorporating authentic research projects into her courses," Dr. Hollingshead said.

Mark Haver, an environmental studies and political science major with a concentration in political communication and a minor in marine biology, was named as the recipient of the 2020 President ’s Scholar Medal. Refering to Haver as "an emerging environmental leader," Dr. Kerr praised his passion for the environment, environmental justice, and sustainability, which he demonstrated through his research and accomplishments during his internships.

The inaugural Hansen Academic Merit Award, which honors outstanding student academic performance and research, was awarded jointly to Zachary Fralish and Addison Cantor. Fralish, a recipient of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, was recognized for his advanced coursework in chemistry and physics, including research into using nanotechnology for the delivery of retinal medications. Cantor, who excelled as a biochemistry and molecular biology student, has conducted research to study the behavior and interaction of proteins involved in the pathology of Parkinson ’s disease. FSC ’s Hansen Academic Merit Award is named for Dr. Ann Hansen, an FSC Trustee whose scientific research in the energy fields has been recognized internationally.

Arjeet Tipirneni, who served as president of the Astronomy Club, the Pre-Dental Society, and as student body president during his senior year, was named as the 2020 Honor Walk Student. Florida Southern ’s highest student award recognizes excellence in academics, leadership, and student involvement. At Tipirneni ’s suggestion, FSC this year introduced the tradition of leading graduates into their commencements with a flag bearing the slogan "Ad Astra Per Aspera" ("Through Hardships to the Stars"). Tipirneni has been accepted into the University of Florida ’s College of Dentistry.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Kerr applauded members of the Class of 2020 for their resiliency and accomplishments despite the unprecedented challenges of the previous few months. "Despite academic, emotional, and economic stress, you diligently balanced classwork and family needs, and excelled academically."

FSC ’s President, Dr. Anne Kerr, welcomed graduates and guests to the College ’s stream of its Spring Virtual Commencement ceremony on Sat., May 16, 2020. This video of the special event was shared on FSC ’s website and on YouTube and Facebook.

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