Online graduates return for a welcoming, in-person reception initially lost to the pandemic
Teary eyes, cheerful smiles, and the music of “Pomp and Circumstance” usually fills St. Ignatius Church in December or May, not April. In a remarkable occasion last Friday, USF welcomed back recent graduates from the class of 2020 and fall 2021 to hold the in-person commencement that was missed when the pandemic forced their graduations to go virtual.
About 956 former students and nearly 1,800 of their guests celebrated a promise given to them by the University, back when it moved all operations to Zoom. The “Welcome Home Celebration” provided the alums a chance to finally make their march through Gleeson Plaza, take their walk across the church’s altar, and, in a triumphant moment, hear their names get called and be met with loud cheers.
For many graduates like Mack Callicrate (‘20), the ceremony felt like “a piece of closure.” Although the former politics major said the celebration “couldn’t necessarily replace the feeling” of what he would have felt in May 2020, the experience of finally getting to walk was important for him and his family. “Finally being able to have it after two years, understandably it feels different, but still it was so important to me and it felt really good to have it after all that time.”
In addition to feeling a similar sense of closure, fellow class of 2020 graduate Mariel Linga said it was unique to see most of her friends and peers back on campus after two years. “I think it was just special to celebrate with friends, especially those who you grew up with these past three or four years that we were on campus.”
Linga said she was determined to attend the ceremony for her family, particularly as an immigrant and first-generation college student. “This is one of the biggest accomplishments I could give back to my parents, and I’m just grateful to have had this opportunity,” she said.
When the Foghorn reported in December that the University had planned to welcome back the online graduates, some former students expressed gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity. As Carolyn Jatul (‘21) said, “it means a lot to be celebrated on campus in the church and recognized, and reconnect with professors and fellow classmates.”
Taryn Moore, USF’s director of alumni engagement, said given the challenges these graduates faced, the makeup commencements was the least USF could do. “It was important for us to fulfill our promise and invite them back to the hilltop to celebrate their tremendous accomplishments while at USF,” Moore said. “We are proud of these alumni and admire the determination and grit they have shown.”
When USF sent its invitations to alums, the University promised a traditional ceremony, “complete with a platform party of administrators, faculty, and trustees, and students in regalia receiving their diplomas from Fr. Fitzgerald as their names are read,” as Kellie Samson described back in December.
All four ceremonies, beginning at 9 a.m. and the last one starting at 4:30 p.m., featured the guaranteed pomp and extravagance. Guest commencement speakers included San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sheryl Evans Davis and Bon Appetit Management Company Co-Founder and CEO, Fedele Bauccio. While diplomas were not handed, given that they had already been mailed to each student, each graduate had their official graduation photo taken, their names called along with their accolades, and either a handshake or fist bump from University President Paul J. Fitzgerald S.J.
For Kenneth Cacacho (‘21) sitting at St. Ignatius Church and attending the ceremony prompted flashbacks. “It just kind of brought back old memories and started new moments, seeing familiar faces, and reconnecting with these people who I haven’t seen in two years, with some of them living in different parts of the world now.” Though he said that the Zoom ceremony last year still had a celebratory mood, being able to go through the formal ceremony was different. “I know one of my professors, he was there for all ceremonies, trying to find all his students and say thank you to them. You just can’t do that over Zoom.”
In five weeks, USF will hold another commencement ceremony for the class of 2022. Given the similar protocols setup during last winter’s graduation and the April celebration, the University confirmed it will keep its limited capacity and safety policy in place for May commencements.
Miguel Arcayena is a senior politics major and the Foghorn’s news editor. He covers campus breaking news and administrative issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.