By Harley Nefe
Graduation is one of the most memorable days for students who finished their academic requirements. However, wearing black and gold regalia, walking across the stage and receiving a diploma looked a little different for Appalachian State University’s Class of 2020.
Typically, the cheers of family and friends are contained within the walls of the Holmes Convocation Center on campus, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation celebrations took place virtually.
A year and a half later, the Class of 2020 is being invited back to celebrate their achievements in-person.
“On several occasions last year, Chancellor Sheri Everts noted that in addition to virtual commencement ceremonies, she would welcome 2020 graduates back to campus for an in-person commencement ceremony in their honor,” University Communications wrote in a statement.
As soon as the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines were lifted, staff began planning.
“We had been talking about this for quite a while, but we just needed to know that we could put it out there and actually be able to follow through with it,” said Stephanie Billings, Executive Director of Alumni Affairs.
In a joint effort between the Office of the Chancellor, University Events and Alumni Affairs, App State has scheduled a full slate of festivities between September 23-25, 2021 recognizing the recent graduates.
“Class of 2020, we know your final year at Appalachian State University did not end as you would have hoped,” Alumni Affairs wrote in an announcement. “Through it all, we continue to be amazed by your resilience and are so proud of your accomplishments. The time has finally come to celebrate and recognize you, and the Appalachian Community could not be more excited.”
The celebration festivities will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 23 with the App State vs. Marshall football game where the graduates in attendance will be recognized. Tickets for the game will go on sale in August, and there will be a special discount code for the Class of 2020.
Then on Friday, Sept. 24, a new tradition will start with the Class of 2020. Graduates will be able to ring the Founders Bell to signify their academic achievements at App State.
“The Founders Bell has never been a part of any commencement ceremony, but we are starting a new tradition,” Billings said. “For this class, they are the first ones to start the tradition, and we are really excited about that. On Friday, people can go by and ring the Founders Bell, and we’ll have some people taking pictures there and members of Alumni Affairs present to welcome people. It’s going to be really fun.”
Also all day Friday, there will be discounts campuswide. The Class of 2020 can spend the day on campus and enjoy 20% off at all Campus Dining facilities and at the University Bookstore.
From noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, the Class of 2020 can visit the McKinney Alumni Center to have a professional headshot taken, update their alumni information and receive an alumni decal for their vehicle.
The Class of 2020 then can enjoy their Friday evening reuniting and socializing at The Rock with a wine and cheese reception complimentary for the graduates. There will be fees for each additional guest.
“We are working with our friends in athletics to have a space at the stadium,” Billings said. “It’s just a time for members of the class to get together and be able to see each other.”
All of the festivities lead up to the Class of 2020 commencement celebration that will be taking place on Saturday, Sept. 25.
Commencement ceremonies will be held at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. However, additional ceremonies may be added based on demand.
“Commencement is the ultimate celebration of one of the most significant accomplishments of our students’ lifetimes,” Alumni Affairs wrote in an announcement. “We are pleased to provide a memorable commencement experience for our 2020 graduates through in-person ceremonies at Holmes Convocation Center.”
The ceremonies will be capped at 450 members of the Class of 2020, and each ceremony will last 60-90 minutes and will include graduates from each university. Chancellor Everts will also be presiding over the commencement ceremonies, like she normally does.
During each ceremony, graduates will walk across the stage in Holmes Convocation Center, have their name announced and be professionally photographed. The Class of 2020 can invite an unlimited number of guests, and tickets are not required. The event is first come, first served.
“The Class of 2020, their degrees were actually conferred, so we don’t want anyone to feel like if they don’t come to the ceremony that their degrees were not conferred,” Billings said. “They are already graduates. This is just a celebration of commencement. It will feel like a regular commencement, but it won’t have the conferring of the degrees.”
Another aspect that will be a little different this time compared to previous commencement ceremonies is that regalia is not required to participate, but it is encouraged if participants would like to wear it. Regalia can be ordered directly from Jostens by August 19, and it will be shipped home. Otherwise, business attire is preferred.
“We wanted to make sure that if someone did not buy the cap and gown that that would not be a deterrent for them to come back and celebrate with us,” Billings explained. “We just wanted to make sure that there were very few barriers for people to come back and be able to experience this.”
Registration is required for the commencement ceremonies, and so far there has been a good response.
“We’ve had a really good response,” Billings said. “Once we set it out, we started getting a lot of registrations. Right now, I would say we are at about 150 to 160 people that have registered, which is really good.”
At this point, there is not a specific date that participants need to register by; however, if the numbers of registrations start reaching the maximum number of 450, a cut off date might be considered.
As for now, the university encourages everyone to spread the word of the festivities that will take place in September.
“We are thrilled that we can do this,” Billings said. “We are very excited. The university as a whole is very excited to have this class back. I know it was very difficult for the class and for the university not to be able to celebrate like we normally do our graduates. We are so excited to have them back on campus. There’s a lot going on, and it should be a lot of fun.”
More information along with registrations for the events can be found at https://www.alumni.appstate.edu/s/1727/c20/Interior.aspx?sid=1727&gid=2&pgid=3587.
“Things will be added to the website because we want to make sure that we have lots of activities for the graduates coming back,” Billings said. “Keep looking at that website because there might be some new activities that pop up.”