Faculty and Staff Reimagine Traditional Commencement Season Rituals

May 19, 2020
By: Kristen O'Reilly

In a more normal world, Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicole Rosa, Ph.D., would have spent Saturday, May 16, at the DCU Center along with her fellow faculty members and hundreds of others, applauding and celebrating the accomplishments of students at Worcester State’s Commencement ceremony. Instead, she dressed in her academic regalia and drove to the homes of 10 graduating seniors from her developmental capstone course, presenting them with congratulatory lawn signs and wishing them well.

“It was a lot of driving, but it was worth it. I loved being able to see them and recognize their accomplishments in some way,” she says. “This was a close-knit group, and they were clearly upset about Commencement being delayed, and all the other things they were losing.”

Using Mapquest, she calculated the most efficient route, starting in New Hampshire and then hitting the Massachusetts towns of Leominster, Agawam, Spencer, Holden, Monson, Dudley, Shrewsbury, Auburn, and then back to Worcester.

“They loved it, and their parents loved it. I received lots of texts afterward,” she says.

Rosa was not alone in finding ways to reimagine important rituals of the graduation season.

Earlier in May, the five members of the Office of Residence Life made a similar tour of New England, splitting up to visit the 14 graduating RAs (12 undergraduate and two graduate students) to present them with the office’s Superhero Medals, on the day that would have been their End of the Year Annual Banquet. They went as far as New Haven, Conn., and Great Barrington, Mass., and many points in between.

“Our motto in Residence Life is ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference,” says Associate Director of Residence Life Kristen Nelson. “We wanted to tell them personally that they did make a difference, especially to us, but also to the whole Worcester State community.”

Business Administration and Economics Professor Elizabeth Wark, Ph.D., emailed a video of herself, dressed in regalia and sitting in her home office, to the 35 graduates of the M.S. in Management program, including seven who graduated in August 2019 and nine who graduated in December 2019. In addition to reading all their names, she offered words of encouragement.

“We worked you hard this year, myself included. But you should be proud of yourselves. You rose to the challenge. You completed a great milestone. So I want you to take a moment and bask, to appreciate your accomplishments, and to celebrate,” said Wark in the video.

Bobbi Kyle, Ed.D., dean of the Graduate School, wrote words of praise on postcards that were mailed to the 226 students who were to participate in the Graduate Commencement Ceremony, originally scheduled for Friday, May 15.

“Even though our Commencement has been delayed to August 28. . . please know that we recognize all your hard work. Celebrate your accomplishments,” she wrote.

Professor Amaryllis Siniossoglou, M.F.A., of the Visual and Performing Arts Department, created a virtual gallery that highlighted the work of her students in all six of her classes, most of which was completed during the online portion of the spring semester. The gallery was just one element of the Visual and Performing Arts Department’s week-long Extreme Art-ery.

On what would have been the day of the Party on the Eve celebration, the night before Commencement, graduates received video greetings from Elizabeth Bitar ’11, president of the Alumni Association’s Advisory Board, along with messages of congratulations from other Alumni Association members.

“The Class of 2020 is going to be the class to watch out for, because adversity, failure, and pain are things you are going to experience in your life. And we know you have had your fair amount of adversity this year alone. Do not let these moments define you. Rather, take these moments, learn from them, and continue forward on your journey to achieve your goals,” said Bitar. “Class of 2020, on behalf of the Worcester State community, we are so proud of you.”

Graduating students are also invited to come to campus to pick up a special gift from the Alumni Association on Wednesday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first 50 seniors who drive by to pick up the gift will also get a bag filled with WSU Alumni-branded items. Visit the Class of 2020 information page: https://alumni.worcester.edu/classof2020.

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