Under normal circumstances, Saturday would have been a flurry of activity in Newark, with thousands of people attending the University of Delaware’s commencement, department-level convocations taking place all across campus and students and parents packing into downtown restaurants.
However, like so many things affected by the pandemic, that was all different this year. Delaware Stadium sat empty, and restaurants weren’t able to open for dine-in service. Instead of attending commencement, graduates – most of whom have been home since a coronavirus outbreak hit UD in mid-March – watched a half-hour celebration video meant to serve as a placeholder until the university can hold a more traditional graduation event.
“Now, we all know, this is not exactly what we imagined this day to look like. But, join me as we look back on the last four years of our college experience, and remember all of the special milestones and fun we’ve had along the way,” said Loren Gross, a senior from Kentucky.
Gross was one of four “Blue Hen spirit leaders” who helped emcee the pre-recorded, heavily-scripted video that streamed online at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“We’ve definitely weathered quite a storm this semester, but we all know there will be brighter days ahead. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from a real pro,” Gross said as the stream cut to a video from NBC weatherman Al Roker.
“This pandemic, everything that we’re going though, is going to form you, it’s going to shape you, it’s going to make you stronger, and you guys are going to not just survive, but you are going to thrive,” Roker said. “Because let’s face it, when your mascot is a Blue Hen, you’re used to people giving you a hard time.”
UD officials were careful not to present Saturday’s livestream as a virtual commencement, instead referring to it as a “Blue Hen Celebration” that did not include any of the normal pageantry and traditions of a typical commencement. Unlike some colleges and local high schools that moved their traditional graduations online, UD has told students it plans to hold an in-person commencement later in the year, as long as public health conditions allow.
“These are my favorite events at UD, and I look forward to them every year. I know how much they mean to you and your families. I promise I will do everything we can so that we can have them on campus as soon as it is safe to do so,” UD President Dennis Assanis said in the video.
Assanis noted that the Class of 2020 holds a special place in his heart because those students were freshmen during his first year at UD.
“You’ve acquired deep knowledge in your fields. You’ve honed your talents and skills, and you’ve developed an open and creative mind to chart your own path forward,” Assanis said. “Nothing, I repeat, nothing, not even a global pandemic, will ever diminish your outstanding achievement.”
There was no commencement speaker Saturday, but the video featured cameos from a who’s who of well-known UD alumni and Delawareans, including NFL quarterback Joe Flacco, actress Aubrey Plaza, figure skater Johnny Weir, 6ABC news anchor Matt O’Donnell, State Sen. Tizzy Lockman and others. Notably absent, though, was arguably UD’s most famous alumnus, former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“Thank you for making my home state proud. Now, get out there and go make a difference. Maybe not right now. Maybe stay home right now. Maybe don’t go anywhere right now. But eventually, you’re gonna get out there and you’re gonna make a difference,” Plaza quipped.
The video also included short video snippets of students talking about their memories of UD, a performance by singer-songwriter and UD alumna Marielle Kraft, and videos of several professors each reading part of a congratulatory message to students.
A total of 6,839 degrees were conferred this spring, including undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“I hope to see Class of 2020 – Quarantine Class – back at Grottos in the future,” Thomas Cascone, a senior from New York, said in the video.