HOUSTON, May 15, 2020 –During mid-May, thousands of proud students adorned in regalia can typically be seen swarming the most Instagram-worthy spots on the University of Houston campus for celebratory photos following commencement. Accompanied by parents, partners, friends and family, it’s the time for graduates and their loved ones to savor years of hard work. This May, COVID-19 pumped the brakes on the pomp and circumstance.
“Our University is used to thunderstorms and floods disrupting our commencement ceremonies, but who would have predicted a pandemic?” UH President Renu Khator said during an address to spring 2020 graduates via video from her home, assuring them the ceremony will happen when circumstances allow. “I want to reassure you that you will have the opportunity to walk across the stage in your cap and gown as soon as the situation improves, but today it is important to me … that we take time to recognize your achievements.”
"It’s often said the last mile of the race is the most difficult one, but it can also be the most rewarding."
Coronavirus and social distancing recommendations may have kept graduates from campus, but it did not keep the UH community from celebrating the achievements of more than 6,000 graduates, including:
- More than 4,500 who earned a bachelor’s degree
- Nearly 1,000 students earning a master’s degree
- 585 students completing a professional or doctoral degree
Many of the 2020 graduates who took their final courses or defended their dissertations and theses online due to the pandemic also experienced the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“The Class of 2020 will always hold a special place in my heart because of your resilience. I salute all of you for the way you’ve handled changes in your lives, including adapting to a new format of learning. It’s often said the last mile of the race is the most difficult one, but it can also be the most rewarding,” Khator said.
Around the University, deans, faculty and staff have joined virtual celebrations for their respective college graduates. Other college celebrations will take place later this month and next.
“The fact that you have persevered through unprecedented hardship and turmoil in our society, I commend you,” Cullen College of Engineering Dean Joseph Tedesco remarked during a 90-minute Facebook Live event. “As you move forward in your lives and careers, you will reflect on this time and know that it will make you stronger. You are prepared to face any adversity that comes your way in the future.”
“The road you traveled to get here was not a singular journey, but one with many others that provided support along the way,” said Allan J. Dettlaff, dean of the UH Graduate College of Social Work. “I’d like to acknowledge your friends, parents, partners, children and everyone who helped you arrive at this important place in your life’s journey.”
The College of Technology will hold a virtual celebration on May 22 to recognize a graduating class whose members have achieved “something remarkable,” Dean Anthony Ambler said.
“To our new graduates, congratulations for completing what is probably one of the most difficult ways to gain a degree,” he said.
Knowing that students still want to walk across the stage, the University opted to postpone the commencement ceremonies until fall rather than offer virtual ceremonies in lieu.
“I look forward to the time when I can help in conferral of your degrees and say to you for a final time, ‘Go Coogs,’” said Antonio Tillis, dean of the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. “Until then, be safe and be well.”
Khator concluded her five-minute tribute to grads from the floor of the Fertitta Center, where a majority of the commencement ceremonies were to be held.
“I’ll be here waiting for you,” she said. “Until then, in the coming weeks you will receive your diplomas in the mail along with a special welcoming message from the UH Alumni Association to remember this most significant achievement. I can’t wait to see you here. Congratulations graduates, and Go Coogs!”
A communication by the University of Houston Division of University Marketing and Communications.
Special thanks to the students in the Cullen College of Engineering who submitted photos for use in their college celebrations and this story. Additional photos and video courtesy the UH College of Education.