Purdue University Northwest (PNW) hosted socially distanced graduation celebrations for the Class of 2020 on December 4 and 5 at the Westville Campus and December 11 and 12 at the Hammond Campus. Participating graduates and their families were able to enjoy some of the key elements that make a traditional commencement ceremony special while staying safe from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
After the university was forced to cancel its spring 2020 celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PNW Commencement Committee members knew they needed to plan ahead and create a safe alternative for their graduates. So, they crafted a photo opportunity that emulated commencement. More than 400 students participated, reserving 15-minute time slots where they and up to four family members took professional photos in caps and gowns and even walked across the traditional commencement stage, podium included.
“Commencement is our favorite and most important time of year,” said Kris Falzone, associate vice chancellor for Marketing and Communications at PNW. “For two semesters now, we’ve been unable to come together in one place and celebrate the achievements of thousands of our students. Our faculty and staff knew we had to come up with an alternative plan to honor our graduates.”
PNW turned to its student government and consulted with them to determine what students valued most in a commencement ceremony.
“We heard loud and clear from our graduating students that one of the most important things to them is to walk across a stage with their diploma cover and get that photo that says ‘I did this,’” Falzone said. “They wanted their families to have that opportunity to share in that moment with them.”
Staff members and various barriers and signs guided students and their families through the celebratory events, ensuring social distancing and keeping the process orderly as the graduates took photos and walked across the stage.
“I think they’ve done a good job making this as safe as possible,” said James Higgason, who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology. “I think it’s awesome that they did this. We can’t have the traditional ceremony, so it’s good to have something.”
Ashley Gerodimos, executive director of the PNW Alumni Community and University Strategic Events, noted that the way the students, faculty, and staff collaborated to create the unique celebration demonstrated the strength of the PNW community.
“Our students have heart, they have grit, and they really do connect back to the campus,” she said. “At PNW, we care about the students. That’s what makes us distinct. Students’ experiences here are based on their time with the faculty and with each other along the way. We’re so proud of our students and wanted to give them an event they could be proud to show off to the world with fun photos.”
According to Gerodimos, the celebration also marks the start of a new phase in the graduate’s relationship with PNW, joining the university’s 67,000-member alumni community.
“It’s a huge network. You’ll be surprised where you can find fellow PNW graduates,” she said. “They love to give back, to connect and provide mentorship to students. When you become an alumnus, even as a young alumnus, it’s so valuable to share your experience with the people behind you.”
To learn more about Purdue University Northwest, visit www.pnw.edu.