Digital images of grads at UC Santa Barbara’s entryway were offered as part of the students’ virtual graduation of 2020. | Credit: Courtesy

A combined 6,793 students, both undergraduate and graduate, will receive their diplomas in UC Santa Barbara’s first-ever virtual ceremony. And, all hope, the last ever. Chancellor Henry T. Yang notified students and their families that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced the school to put the June 13 celebration of accomplishments online, but organizers added a variety of interactive possibilities.

“Even though we cannot be together in person this June to honor your achievements, we want to take this time to recognize all you have accomplished at UC Santa Barbara,” Yang said in a university-wide announcement. “As a class and as individuals, you have met our high educational standards and overcome many extraordinary challenges during your time here.”

The virtual ceremony will include personalized graduate slides, a short performance from distinguished alumnus Jack Johnson, and remarks from university leaders and a student speaker. 

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Beyond hosting the ceremony, Yang and the university are trying to make end-of-year celebrations as interactive as possible. On the university website, students are able to Photoshop themselves in front of Henley Gate. And from the same site, students can read inspiring messages from fellow graduates and former alumni.

While these efforts are in the name of preserving tradition, students are conscious of how much the pandemic has disrupted their final year at UCSB. Global studies major Zoe Zaleski looks forward to participating in the digital ceremony, but she laments that her family will not be able to join her and that her post-graduate plans have changed so drastically. While Zaleski was on track to pursue a teaching career in Seattle, she now plans to move home to Marin County for the summer. 

Economics and accounting major William Pai has found himself in a similar position. “I am not thrilled about the virtual ceremony, but I think it’s the best thing we can do right now,” he said.

Solace may be found in a future in-person celebration, which will take place as soon as state and federal laws allow. “We look forward to the future when we can, together in person, welcome you and your families and friends to campus to share the Commencement stage,” the university website assures.

In the meantime, Zaleski, Pai, and their fellow graduates are trying to remain positive. “Everything is changing, but I am trying to have a good attitude about it,” Zaleski said. “Ultimately, I am just proud of all our accomplishments.”

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