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President’s Corner: The Celebration Was Virtual, The Impact Was Real

Last weekend, about 3,600 students had hoped to cross the seal on Kaufman Mall and march into the Ted Constant Convocation Center, where they would receive their diplomas, signaling a successful completion of their Old Dominion journey.

That didn't happen because of the coronavirus outbreak. We plan to reschedule their commencement ceremony in mid-December. But we didn't want the achievements of our May graduates to go uncelebrated during what should have been their happiest week at ODU.

So last week, Old Dominion offered several innovative ways for graduates, their friends and families to mark their special moment and express their joy in what we called a Virtual Celebration.

We created a website and encouraged graduates, friends and family members to post personal messages. We provided special graduation GIFs, Facebook frames and Zoom backgrounds. We even held a digital cap decorating challenge.

As the anticipation builds day by day before a traditional graduation ceremony, so, too, did we provide a different way to virtually celebrate each day last week.

On Thursday, for instance, we held a virtual program honoring graduates who won awards (which replaced our usual in-person honors commemoration). Friday, we shared a "You did it!" video, a compilation of clips graduates sent us to congratulate each other with one that I recorded to offer my best wishes. Saturday would have been the day when many of them would have heard their names read aloud as they walked across the stage. We tried to provide the next best thing: A video showing all of the graduates' names, patterned to spell out ODU.

My thanks go to our staffs in Community Engagement, Strategic Communication and Marketing, and Academic Technology Services, which have dreamed up and executed a creative array of options - and no less to the graduates and relatives who embraced them with true Monarch spirit.

I've enjoyed seeing our graduates summarize their ODU experience in one word on Instagram. Their entries include "journey," "transformative," "sublime" and "essential."

Their longer messages - and those of their loved ones - will also inspire you. The parents of one graduate told her: "Although your big day didn't turn out as you planned, it's important to remember nothing can minimize or take away what you have achieved! Your intelligence, beautiful smile, and compassionate heart are the hallmarks of the young woman you have grown into."

Another graduate wrote: "So proud of myself, did it for my mother in heaven."

I encourage you to take a look yourselves at www.odu.edu/grad2020 And feel free to add your messages of congratulation through the end of this week.

Especially in these unsettled times, we need to take advantage of opportunities to celebrate, especially when the milestone is the completion of a college education. Our graduates deserve it. And be assured that the celebrations are not done. I look forward to sharing the joy of graduation with them in person at our rescheduled ceremony in December.

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