The commencement that wasn’t passed by quietly on the Utah State University campus on Thursday and Friday with a trickle of students in caps and gowns having their pictures taken in front of university landmarks.
The most popular spot seemed to be the “Block A” on the northeast corner of Old Main, where USU students traditionally gather each Homecoming for a kissing ritual that certifies them as “True Aggies.”
But social distancing — at least between non-family members — was the order of the day Friday, in keeping with the state and national COVID-19 recommendations that led to postponement of this spring’s commencement exercises. The university is planning to mark commencement in late August, if public health circumstances allow.
Eric Christensen and his family drove up from Layton for a Block A photo op, and the aviation-maintenance graduate posed for a photo holding his 2-year-old son, Nels, along with side-by-side pictures with other family members.
Asked if he was disappointed about cancellation of the originally scheduled ceremony, Christensen said, “Yes and no. I’m not a big fan of big ceremonies, but graduation is a once-in-a-life time event.”
Also taking their turns atop the iconic Aggie landmark on Friday were Brittany Stucki and Hayley McBride, who borrowed their caps and gowns from the College of Education for the occasion.
The pair earned degrees from USU’s communicative disorders and deaf education program, which conducted its own online ceremony for graduates over YouTube on Friday morning.
Stucki and McBride are both from Cache Valley, so they expect to be back on campus for the August commencement exercises.
USU awarded more than 7,000 degrees this week, but how many of those graduates will return for the August ceremony is anybody’s guess. Many have already gone back to their homes out-of-state or are pursuing opportunities elsewhere.
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In addition to making one last visit to campus, some students are staging their own private graduation events online.
USU spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler said she provided information to one person recently who was preparing a speech to give at her sister’s online graduation celebration for extended family. “I suspect a lot of people are doing that, or some version of that,” Wheeler said.
Since commencement traditionally precedes the issuing of final grades, USU graduates do not receive their actual degrees during the graduation walk but are simply handed a degree cover. This year, however, diplomas will be mailed with their covers.
“We’re trying to get the word out that people need to watch their mailboxes and make sure we have the right address so they get their diplomas,” Wheeler said.
Statistics for the USU Class of 2020 show continuation of the trend of more women than men receiving undergraduate degrees — and by a wide margin: about 3,500 to about 2,500.
The most popular undergraduate degrees at USU this year were in communicative disorders and deaf education (360), economics (349), psychology (188), human movement science (160), mechanical engineering (152), business administration (149), and elementary education (133).
Nearly 5,200 of the 6,000 undergraduates were white, with Asian students making up the second-largest group at 263, and Native American students making up the third-largest group at 112.
Speaking to the entire campus community in a press release on Thursday, USU President Noelle Cockett saluted the Class of 2020 for its resiliency in dealing with the rapid shift to online classes in March as a safeguard against the spread of COVID-19.
“We celebrate this significant accomplishment during a time when the global pandemic has kept us apart physically, but it cannot quell our Aggie spirit of togetherness,” she said.
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