This past weekend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, held 10 in-person ceremonies honoring spring, summer, and fall 2020 graduates. With enhanced health and safety measures, limited guests, socially distanced seating, and mandatory masks, the ceremonies looked different from those in years past. But the joy of commencement was still evident in excited eyes and proud strides across the main stage.
The ceremonies included addresses from Provost John Zomchick, current Student Body President Karmen Jones, and two graduating students: PhD recipient Erica Grant and JD recipient John Brown. Zomchick commended the class of 2020 for their resilience and for pursuing their passions through difficult trials.
“Every so often there is a class of students who graduates into a world that is remarkably different from the world that existed when they entered college,” Zomchick said. “Despite everything that has come your way, you have persevered. By being here today, you’ve shown that you’ve succeeded. . . . You represent the very best of what our state and our country have to offer, and it will be your creativity, your innovation, and your collaboration that are going to help lead us into the future.”
Many graduates were thankful for the chance to walk across the stage. The ceremonies provided not only a chance for recognition but also a sense of closure, particularly for spring and summer graduates who had their final semesters at UT upended.
“[The ceremony] was very exciting and really emotional. It was another great reminder of the Volunteer spirit and the family I was able to create here,” said Ali Sutherland, a summer 2020 graduate from Grundy, Virginia. Sutherland earned her master’s degree in communication and information sciences. “The care that UT has taken with this is really special to see. It would’ve been really easy just to cancel graduation altogether and they didn’t. They did this for us, and we really needed it.”
Scott Malone II shared that sentiment, returning with his family for this fall’s ceremonies after graduating in May with a degree in civil engineering. “It feels kind of nostalgic to be coming back to campus,” he said. “I’m just thankful that we were able to do this and commemorate every 2020 graduate and all the work that we put in regardless of the pandemic. We’ve definitely overcame some mountains to get to this moment.”
See some of this past weekend’s highlights.