Virtual Graduation

Faculty, students, and staff find unique ways to celebrate graduates.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The 2020 spring semester culminated in many unique graduation events that symbolized the adaptive qualities of Penn Arts & Sciences students. The School’s academic departments celebrated by way of video, pictures, and personal testimonials from students, faculty, and staff. Below, we explore some of these special moments from the Departments of Sociology, Biology, and History of Art.


Department of Sociology 

The Department of Sociology created hub websites for both their undergraduates and their graduate groups in demography and sociology that include students' pictures and a look at their research and dissertations.

Both segments of the department held remote celebrations with video remarks and personal messages from faculty, chairs, and graduates. (You can view the undergraduate celebration video below).


“I would say that the event was surprisingly moving, given the obvious constraints,” says Chenoa A. Flippen, Associate Professor of Sociology. “In addition to written congratulations on our graduation web page, dozens of faculty and staff attended the live event, offering warm congratulations and encouragement to our students. But perhaps the most poignant moment was after the formal presentation was over, when families were invited to speak. There was a collective outpouring as parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles told graduating seniors how proud they were of them, and sent their love and congratulations to the students and to one another. It was very touching, both for students and faculty.”

Nora Gross, a graduating Ph.D. student, says, “In a time of such intense separation, it was incredibly meaningful to gather together and hear about and from each graduating student. I was surprised how moved I was by the gathering, and how celebrated I felt, despite having to go without the robes, music, big crowds, long speeches, and receptions that usually mark a graduation. I still miss all those things—especially getting hooded and having that special moment with my advisor, and getting to share the celebration with friends and family—but I think the live, interactive virtual graduation ceremony filled more of that space for me than I was anticipating.”

Tuğçe Ellialti-Köse, another doctoral graduate, adds, “I really appreciated having the chance to celebrate my doctoral graduation with fellow graduates and faculty and staff. Although it was remote, I think the experience was intimate, casual (in a good way), and very meaningful.”

Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, who also graduated with a Ph.D., says that while the remote ceremonies were meaningful and thoughtful, nothing could replace in-person celebrations. “I could not hug my advisors, I could not take photos with my friends and family, and I could not show my family the place where I had labored for seven years to earn this Ph.D. It was great to celebrate this milestone; but there is so much loss that remains impossible to articulate.”


Department of Biology

A senior celebration on Zoom and recorded messages from faculty made up the Department of Biology festivities. Roberto Corral, Undergraduate Coordinator, compiled the faculty video, which opened with an acknowledgment of the students’ “absolutely extraordinary accomplishments,” by Mecky Pohlschröder, Professor and Undergraduate Chair of Biology. (View the video below). 



Pohlschröder says, “We are glad that the Zoom senior celebration allowed the students and their families to hear their names called out for graduation and awards. It also allowed the students to see each other one more time and for the faculty to say good bye. Although the ceremony was virtual, it was a great experience for the faculty, students, and their families.

She adds that the credit for the celebration goes to Junhyong Kim, Patricia M. Williams Term Professor and Chair of Biology, who had a vision for a live, informal event that could be a meaningful conclusion to the students’ undergraduate careers.

Roshni Kailar, C’20, Erika Harness, C’20, Peter Chan, C’20, and Kristen Sun, C’20, were the senior members of the Student Advisory Committee.


Department of History of Art

The Department of the History of Art held its 2020 virtual graduation online on May 18 to celebrate with family and friends the achievements of two Ph.D. students, 12 M.A. students (many of whom will continue for their Ph.D. degrees), and 16 majors and 27 minors. The department also acknowledged its five senior honors students for the rigor of their scholarship conducted under current circumstances and remote instruction, as well as two retiring faculty members. (View the video below).



“For this new and never-before-attempted format in our department, we decided on brief statements from advisers about their advisees, which allowed us to strip such a ceremony of its familiar, largely ceremonial exercises in favor of concentrating explicitly on the concrete intellectual and academic achievements,” says Andre Dombrowski, Associate Professor of the History of Art and Undergraduate Chair of the department. “It would have been lovely to see students and meet families in person, but the online event provided a positive and hopeful expression of continued scholarly activity as much as a space to socialize.”

“It meant a lot to me that our individual department put in the effort to bring everyone together and commend our achievements,” says Luiza Repsold França, C’20. “On the other hand, as an international student who has not gone home during social distancing, it was somewhat challenging for me to explain to my parents the format of the ceremony as it was happening, not being with them as they watched. But overall, I am very appreciative that Penn History of Art gave us a symbolic celebration and made us feel valued during a difficult time.”

“It was great to see the faces of other students, professors, and graduate students on the screen, and to hear my advisor speak about me and my thesis project, something I am really proud of,” says fellow graduate Delaney Keenan. “My roommate and I decorated our apartment here in Philadelphia with some balloons and were able to virtually mark the occasion with our international families. I am so grateful for everything the History of Art department has given me and I really appreciated the ceremony and words of congratulations from all of the professors.”