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First-ever virtual graduation at the U of U

FILE: Campus gates near President's Circle at the U of U. Credit: Paul Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — Not a lot of pomp at the University of Utah virtual graduation today … under the circumstances. 

Instead, things were extremely quiet on the U of U campus. Thursday was the day when thousands of people were originally scheduled to be there.  But the school wasn’t able to hold its regular commencement ceremony,  so they hosted a virtual one instead.

Campus almost deserted during virtual graduation at U of U

Anyone who has attended a graduation at a college campus knows how things should have been on campus Thursday.  Parking lots should have been full beyond capacity.  Loudspeakers should have blasted inspirational speeches.  Families should have lined up to hug and congratulate their students in caps and gowns.

None of that happened today.

Instead, there were a scant number of students wearing their regalia scattered about campus and taking pictures with their families.  One of those students, Nam Nguyen, was disappointed when the school announced they wouldn’t hold a traditional commencement.  However, he was certain he would take part in the virtual ceremony.

“I mean, something is always better than nothing,” he said.

(Nam Nguyen, with family, taking a picture on commencement day. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Elizabeth Peters was selected to sing the national anthem at commencement and says she was crushed when she learned it wouldn’t go on as planned.

“That was so difficult,” she said.  “It was heartbreaking and sad.  But, I also knew there was a reason for it and a purpose for it.”

She says her heartbreak went away when she learned the university was hosting a virtual ceremony. 

“I was elated, because it was like, ‘Oh! At least I can do something,’” Peters said.

She performed the anthem in a recording studio.  She watched as people kept a safe distance away from each other.  Peters remembers it felt strange to sing with absolutely no audience in front of her. 

University leaders have been recording messages to honor their students over the past few weeks.

Spokesperson Morgan Aguilar says they couldn’t just do nothing.

“We are so devastated that we couldn’t share in this exciting accomplishment and achievement,” she said, “and honor and recognize our students in person like we love doing every single year.”

Virtual graduation at U of U won’t replace ‘the walk’

This commencement ceremony did not replace the tradition of a student “walking” and having their names announced.  Graduates will have another chance to do that in the winter.  Aguilar says they asked students if they still wanted to have a convocation after the risk of getting COVID-19 coronavirus goes down.

“The majority of students elected a December option for in-person convocation,” she says.

People who missed the commencement when it aired can watch it later on the university’s website.  After that, it will be posted on the school’s YouTube channel.


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Coronavirus resources

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

UtahState Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States