While the pandemic may have forced our commencement celebrations to be virtual on Tuesday, the ceremonies still brought some "aww" and "haha" moments. UNLV streamed the Spring 2020 Commencement in the morning and the Winter 2020 ceremony in the afternoon along with college-specific ceremonies throughout the day. While the main ceremonies shared some elements, others were customized for each graduating class.
For links to each ceremony, including the college-based events, visit the Commencement website.
Here, we've cut through the
boring requisite traditional parts to share a few highlights that organizers put together just for our resilient Class of 2020 grads.
1. Celebrity Shout-outs!
Local celebs, pro athletes, and Gov. Steve Sisolak shared their well-wishes with our grads but a few of our favorite moments came from former UNLV quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Kenny Mayne, TV chef Guy Fieri, and Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. And we can confirm: comedian-actor Brad Garrett did indeed have pants on.
2. The "I'm Not Crying, You're Crying" Speeches
In lieu of a paid speaker, UNLV commencement planners traditionally select a student to deliver the keynote address.
For the spring ceremony, that honor went to Santiago Gudino-Rosales, an Honors College graduate with a BS in biological sciences with a neuroscience minor who almost didn't make it past his first semester in college. In his speech, the future medical student shared how by "embracing the uncertainty" the Class of 2020 of "first-generation immigrants, veterans, nontraditional students, or simply anxious young adults who had no idea what we were doing half the time, we did not give up and we became better people because of it."
In the afternoon, it was Lili Equihua's turn to take the podium and address the fellow members of the class. She received her master's degree in couple and family therapy and plans to be a clinician focused on mental health services for those who've experienced trauma. "Now students, we didn't just survive these difficult times, we conquered them," she said. "We remain determined to overcome these challenges ... We are the class of resilience. We embody that rebel spirit. We are the class of the resilient rebels."
3. Bantering Co-hosts
The new format led to a change we just love: alumni co-hosts. From her home studio, journalism graduate Cassie Soto pitched the camera's attention back and forth with admissions counselor Ryan Romero in the studios of KUNV-TV on the ground floor of Greenspun Hall. And, just like your favorite daytime talk show, they brought the banter and some wardrobe changes to keep your attention. We particularly loved the moment they shared their own personalized mortarboards with viewers. Romero's reflected his bedazzling personality while Soto's 2017 cap paid homage to female sports journalists like herself.
4. Inspiring Class Videos
In the past few years, the UNLV communications team has put together a video to share on social media after each ceremony. It always shows the pageantry, spectacle, and fun of the moment while giving our newest alumni a chance to spot their cameos. This year, obviously, that wouldn't work. Instead, the team developed tribute videos for each group of graduates.
For the spring 2020 graduates, UNLV English professor Claudia Keelan read an excerpt of the poem she penned just for this group, thrown suddenly into remote learning during their final semester. [Read Keelan's "To Begin" in full]
For the Winter 2020 graduates, we tapped the voice talents of students in UNLV theatre professor Adam Paul's class. The poem they narrated was written and filmed by UNLV video designer Benjamin Richards.
5. In Memoriam
The processional at commencement traditionally is led by the grand marshall — the longest-tenured member of the UNLV faculty, who walks in carrying the ceremonial mace. Until this spring, that was English professor Felicia Campbell, who passed away July 27. Campbell joined the faculty in 1962 and went on to be a pioneer in the field of pop culture studies while gaining an ardent following of students who appreciated her devotion to them. Her presence as a fixture on our campus will be missed all the more so when the campus returns in full post-pandemic.
The winter ceremony also brought the posthumous awarding of an honorary degree to UNLV alumnus and NSHE Regent Sam Lieberman. A constant champion for UNLV and for higher education in general, Lieberman passed away suddenly April 3, 2020.
6. Talented Student Performances
Our College of Fine Arts students brought out the emotions with their performances — from the pandemic-appropriate but spirited playing of the UNLV Fight Song by the Star of Nevada Band to the meditative Alma Mater featuring the UNLV Wind Orchestra and UNLV Choirs to this soaring rendition of the National Anthem by vocalist Olivera Gjorgoska:
7. The "Turn Your Tassels!"
OK, sure, it may have been a little awkward when President Keith Whitfield and Provost Chris Heavey asked the grads to stand and be recognized, but they meant it! All of our grads deserve their moment of spotlight. So if this was your commencement, we hope you stood up proud in your living room and at least pretended to turn your tassels. And we hope you had a significant other, your parents, your best friend, or your cat there to give you hearty congratulations. You deserve it!