It’s incredible that with a little engineering Union College was able to celebrate the graduation of more than 477 students in one small space Sunday afternoon.
Seen on phones, laptops and streaming devices across the nation and world, the Class of 2020 was celebrated virtually from Union College.
A 90-minute video salute “Honoring U: A Tribute to the Class of 2020” was premiered on Facebook and YouTube, conferring the degrees on 477 Union College students.
“We are gathering virtually today, not as a replacement for our traditional commencement ceremony, but to celebrate your entire class and your tremendous achievements over these past four years…” Strom Thacker, dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs at Union College, said in the opening of the video.
“Because of the impact of this global pandemic, this term was not the one that any of us expected or wanted. We have all dearly missed being on campus with you and commemorating the culmination of your Union [College] experiences.”
The video then moved into brief messages from 2020 graduates Simon Bohn, president of the student forum, Ruchi Raval, the student trustee, and Molly Wiener, senior class president.
The video also included a celebrity message from 2003 graduate and Emmy winning actor Ben Schwartz, currently starring in the Netflix original “Space Force” and the voice of Sonic in “Sonic the Hedgehog.”.
“I just want to say congratulations, you did it, you graduated,” Schwartz, who spent 10 years on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” said. “I know these are very unique times. I know how badly you wish you could be on campus celebrating with friends — but think about it this way, you avoided a lot of people trying to do Naked Nott Runs with facemasks on, which sounds like a horror movie to me. I’m not interested in seeing it.
“You worked your butt off for this, congratulations. Remember to enjoy it and remember to keep up with your friends; it takes a little work, but it’s always worth it.”
David R. Harris, president of Union College, provided brief comments not only about the challenges the students faced in the classroom, but also in their own hometowns and lives.
“I was reminded about our vision statement over the last two weeks as I saw our students using what they learned in the classroom, what they developed from their experience, their engagement with people across this community. As a society we continued to confront the painful and persistent issues around race in America,” Harris said. “I was also reminded of just how much work we have to do as a society and how much work we have to do as a college to make sure we can all be part of positive change.”
He closed out his remarks with a look to the future and an official commencement ceremony at Union College.
“I’d like nothing more than to have you on campus to be able to shake your hand and talk to you and hear about your experience today and we’ll do that next year,” Harris said.
“I want to hear about your journey, I want to hear with the benefit of a year, your perspective on the people you met, what you learned and how that’s enabling you to achieve far beyond what you thought was possible when you first joined the Union [College] community.”
Thacker returned, taking time to mention two Class of 2020 students who had died prior to Sunday’s video and honors — Alex Askenazy who died in the fall of his sophomore year, and Serem’may Baleeka Mendez, class of 2019, who died in the fall of 2019, requesting a moment of silence in their memories.
The video then moved to a 66-minute video slideshow of all 477 graduates kicked off by valedictorian Kara Leyden of Glenmont and salutatorian Jonathan Hanna followed by the Class of 2020 alphabetically listed with a submitted photo, degree, major and a thank-you note.
“We will gather again in person for a full celebration and commencement ceremony,” Harris said in the video.
Prior to the video premiere, each member of the Class of 2020 received their diploma along with assorted Union College memorabilia, including a tumbler, pennant, bumper sticker and a 3D figure of the Nott Memorial in the mail.
No official date has been announced for a physical gathering of this year’s graduates.
The video premiere achieved more than 5,000 views on Facebook and had more than 700 comments during the presentation.
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.