“We Did It”: University of Michigan graduates celebrate a virtual ceremony in the Big House

ANN ARBOR, MI – There was a festive mood at Michigan Stadium on Saturday afternoon as thousands of University of Michigan graduates from 2020 and 2021 watched a virtual opening ceremony with their friends and fellow alumni.

Members of the UM class of 2021 arrived at the stadium at set intervals to watch a virtual opening ceremony on video boards that included speeches by various deans from various schools and colleges. The students also heard speeches from UM President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins, Chair of the Council of Regency Denise Illitch and outgoing President of the Central Student Government Amanda Kaplan.

The students were happy, laughing, and excited to call themselves UM graduates, but some wished they had part of a traditional opening ceremony: going on stage and getting their diploma.

“I definitely wanted to have the opportunity to go on stage because I’ve been here since 2015. It took me a fifth year and then had to do an extra semester because of COVID-19, “said Tyrone Edwards, a biomedical engineering major who graduated from UM in Fall 2020. “But to be honest, the most important thing for me is to only think about performance.”

In February, the university announced that the graduation would be virtual for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but updated state guidelines and fewer COVID-19 cases among students allowed the event, the official said.

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, students were able to take part in photo sessions in the field. However, some students and parents found this insufficient and started a petition for a personal ceremony in February quoting other similar universities holding traditional opening ceremonies.

However, at the end of the day, the students were happy to be at the big house one last time, especially after missing their final soccer season in 2020.

“Coming here one last time to take pictures was really nice to see how everything was set up,” said Carlos Cipollitti, graduate mechanical engineer. “Definitely better than just the virtual ceremony.”

Only graduates were allowed to attend the ceremony at the Big House, but many had family and friends waiting outside the main entrance and in their Ann Arbor apartments. Cousins ​​Caitlyn and Dunia Zawideh kept their families waiting in their apartment and watching the ceremony online. They planned to celebrate their achievements as soon as the event ended.

Both were thrilled to have the positive energy of their fellow graduates around them, said Caitlyn Zawideh, and they thought it was a good thing to do for the senior class that had gone through so much in the 2020-21 school year.

“I think it’s kind of surreal because you don’t really feel like anything is over until today,” said Dunia Zawideh. “You weren’t able to go in person and experience your last class the way you (normally) would have.”

Some graduates also celebrated the night before the personal event. Ann Arbor Police confirmed that there was a party going on in the Greenwood Avenue and Packard Street area, but no arrests were made and no injuries were reported.

By next fall, Edwards hopes things will go back to normal and families can attend future ceremonies. He knows how important this is to many college graduates, and he had a message of congratulations for all of his fellow graduates.

“I know you guys went through a lot, I know it wasn’t easy … but I’m proud of you all and we did it,” said Edwards.

MLive reporter Cole Waterman contributed to this story.

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