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Technology helps to salute graduates, students

May 20, 2020

In a normal May, NIU calendars fill with ceremonies in honor of soon-to-be Huskie graduates.

COVID-19 canceled those events this year, of course, but the virus could not stop the power of technology and social media to continue the springtime traditions in a different way.

Some of NIU’s cultural resource centers created and shared videos to recognize graduates. Members of the University Honors Program family connected Sunday afternoon via Zoom for their annual Honors Day gathering.

NIU’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, meanwhile, is looking forward to hosting its annual Lavender Graduation celebration in August. The Latino Resource Center posted photos of graduates on Facebook.

Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center, says she and her staff “wanted to ensure that these graduates had a special and celebratory moment that can be shared with family and friends.”

“Every year, the AARC hosts a graduation celebration to honor and celebrate graduates who self-identify as Asian or Asian American, and we wanted to provide a virtual program that would be meaningful to the graduates,” Bringas says.

The 75 graduates who appear in the video submitted photos of their NIU experience, words of gratitude for family and friends who supported their academic journeys, and information on degrees and hometowns.

AARC administrative assistant Cathy Cradduck and graduate staff assistant Yoon Jae Jeon applied “creative resourcefulness” to help bring the project to life amid the technicalities of working remotely, Bringas says.

“We rose to each challenge and overcame them,” she says. “They spent countless hours working out the minutia.”

Participating graduates then received emails of congratulations from Bringas with a link to the video, which also included virtual certificates of recognition and a short introduction from NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman.

Diversity is a dimension of excellence, and our cultural resource centers add tremendous value to the NIU community,” President Freeman tells the viewers. “Thank you for being part of our university, and congratulations on your graduation. Go Huskies!”

Based on grateful feedback from newly minted alums, Bringas sees potential for a new tradition.

“We would consider keeping an initiative like this after the stay-at-home order is lifted,” she says. “We think it would be a great way to provide a ‘take-away’ like this for future graduates to share the recognition of their successes with their family, friends and loved ones.”

Jeffrey Salmon, associate director of Military and Post-Traditional Student Services, tracked hundreds of views of two videos – one for veterans and another for other post-traditional students. The videos feature photos and information on the students.

“Our GA, Marissa Dordick, did great work with the videos,” Salmon says. “We know it’s no substitute for the actual graduation ceremony, but it was a new COVID-19-related idea that I know will become a new yearly tradition.”

Anne Edwards, acting director of the Center for Black Studies, plans to post a video in early August.

Her students were happy to hear of their forthcoming on-screen acknowledgement, she says, even as they’re “eager for life to go back to normal.”

“Celebrating our graduates is important to our department because their efforts and hard work need to be acknowledged. Some of our students are first-generation, so this is a huge accomplishment for them,” Edwards says.

“Given the conditions that COVID-19 has caused, and that our celebration of our graduates has been a 30-year tradition, we don’t want our graduates’ accomplishments to go unnoticed,” she adds. “We felt the need to provide some type of normalcy even if it is virtual. Our students look forward to it, they earned it, and we wanted them to know that we are in the trenches with them.”

Luis Santos-Rivas, director of the Latino Resource Center, echoed those sentiments of the importance of recognizing students and families for their efforts and achievements.

“We celebrate the Latino Graduation every year,” Santos-Rivas says. “It’s a family event where the students have the opportunity to thank their loved ones with an optional 30-second speech.”

And, even before the pandemic, the center would livestream its ceremony via Facebook Live to positive reviews. “The response is excellent,” he says, “because the whole family enjoys the event as do their families overseas as well.”

Sunday’s Zoom-hosted Honors Day featured not only students on screen but President Freeman, Provost Beth Fisher Ingram and Vice Provost Omar Ghrayeb as well, along with a pre-taped visit from Mission and Mini-Mish.

Honors2020 grad social media banners, Zoom backgrounds and digital photo frames were provided.

“We also sent out regalia and graduation certificates to our graduates, hoping that they would wear them while they attended our online ceremony,” says Andrea Radasanu, acting director of University Honors. “We even created a Red & Black mocktail for participants to raise in celebration of our Honors graduates’ achievements.”

Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, is eager to see her students in August.

“For the past 10 years, NIU has recognized its LGBTQ+ graduates in the Lavender Graduation Ceremony,” Holmes says. “We intend to continue to do so; however, we have not gone to a virtual platform. We are determining if we will do so, or if we will wait until it’s safe to do a more traditional in-person/hybrid ceremony. For now, we have communicated that we will follow the larger commencement.”

But that doesn’t mean the previously scheduled Lavender Gradation passed without notice.

On May 7, the center’s Facebook page marked the occasion with photos from the past 10 ceremonies that celebrated “the achievements and persistence of LGBTQ+ graduates.”

“This year is different in our ability to gather, but not in our love and celebration of you,” the post stated. “Your persistence and accomplishments matter.”