One hundred and sixty-six students graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, May 9, during the University’s first-ever Virtual Commencement Ceremony—held to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2020 despite a public health situation that precludes large, in-person gatherings. During the 111th Commencement ceremony, UMPI President Raymond Rice conferred degrees for the 2019-2020 academic year upon this year’s graduating seniors, who had the opportunity to participate in the ceremony via UMPI’s Youtube channel.
“We were very pleased, especially on an unseasonably snowy graduation day, to have an alternate way to gather together with members of campus, family, and friends and recognize the members of our Class of 2020,” President Rice said. “We are so very proud of our graduating seniors, and commend them for their hard work and perseverance during this most unusual Spring semester. We have no doubt that those qualities will serve them well as they forge ahead.”
Larry Shaw, President and CEO of MMG Insurance, addressed the graduates as this year’s commencement speaker. Shaw also served as this year’s honorary degree recipient and will formally receive his Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree and be hooded during next year’s Commencement Exercises. Evan Zarkadas, member of the Class of 2020, served as this year’s Student Commencement Speaker.
During the 2020 commencement ceremony, University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy and James Erwin, Chair of the UMS Board of Trustees, delivered greetings. As well, Carl Michaud, member of the UMPI Board of Visitors; Carolyn Dorsey, UMPI Faculty Assembly Chair; and Thomas Wire, Past UMPI Alumni Association President, offered remarks on behalf of each organization.
President Rice led the presentation of degrees, which was accompanied by a slideshow featuring each of the graduates, as well as photos and messages they submitted. He noted UMPI’s tradition of pinning all marching graduates with a special symbol of campus–a lapel pin depicting a snowy owl with its wings outstretched in flight—and explained since that couldn’t happen in-person, graduates would be receiving their wings pins in the mail. Following the conferral of degrees, a surprise Zoom room full of faculty and staff appeared onscreen to offer applause and cheer on the new graduates.
Viewers received another special surprise with an unexpected appearance and remarks by Tony-nominated actor, novelist, and playwright John Cariani, who hails from Presque Isle. His advice? “Expect obstacles, and don’t be mad about them.”
President Rice also shared with graduating seniors that they would receive a special gift in the mail this summer, in addition to their wings pins, diplomas, and diploma covers: “We don’t want to ruin the surprise,” he said, “but know that it’s meant to help you on this next step of your journey.”
The event culminated in a distance-friendly tossing of the caps, complete with video tribute to the Class of 2020, a countdown, and the official tossing. Members of the Class of 2020 were encouraged to don their regalia at home and take part in the tradition.
“On this most auspicious of days, we commend the Class of 2020 for their incredibly dedicated pursuit of their academic goals,” President Rice said. “Whether they’ve taken a traditional path to their degrees, come back after a long time away, or undertaken their college work later in life, these graduates have accomplished so much during their time with us. Many have juggled family schedules, jobs, and other responsibilities—not to mention the additional burdens placed upon them during this global pandemic—as they’ve pursued their education and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”
A website dedicated to this virtual commencement has been established at www.umpi.edu/virtual-graduation. On this site, visitors can view the Commencement proceedings in their entirety, click in to a specific speech, and peruse the official Commencement program. A curated gallery of Instagram posts connected with UMPI’s 2020 graduation is also featured.
In lieu of a reception, a score of post-graduation celebrations were held. University faculty, staff, and the Alumni Association provided opportunities for graduates to take part in virtual gatherings via Zoom video after the ceremony. These gatherings allowed small groups to come together, share the excitement of the day with each other, and celebrate this year’s graduates.
Understanding, however, that this event cannot replace a live graduation experience, the University is providing two other opportunities for the Class of 2020. There will be a Live Celebratory Event for 2020 graduates during Homecoming Weekend, Sept. 18-20, and graduates are also invited to march in UMPI’s 2021 Commencement Exercises. Both classes of graduates will be recognized and honored in May 2021.