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University holds online virtual degree conferral for Class of 2020

The online ceremony included surprise performances from renowned musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Dave Matthews

<p>“This is clearly not our typical ceremony, nor is it the one we had hoped to have,” Ryan said.</p>

“This is clearly not our typical ceremony, nor is it the one we had hoped to have,” Ryan said.

The University hosted an online ceremony to virtually confer degrees to the Class of 2020 Saturday afternoon. Nearly 9,000 tuned in to watch the event, which was streamed on YouTube and featured performances from renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and singer-songwriter Dave Matthews. 

To kick off the ceremony, the University showed a video compilation of graduates and memorable moments — such as Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, the construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and the football team’s historic win against Virginia Tech — underscored by Ma’s musical performance. 

From a podium at the Rotunda, University President Jim Ryan and 12 University deans conferred degrees to all those graduating. 

“This is clearly not our typical ceremony, nor is it the one we had hoped to have,” Ryan said. “I am deeply sorry we can’t be together in person, but I look forward to seeing all of you who can make it right here on the Lawn either this fall or this spring.”

The University announced last month that a postponed Final Exercises will occur on the Lawn October 9-11. If that date becomes infeasible due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony will be rescheduled to May 28-30 of 2021. As the deans conferred degrees, a chat box full of parents, families, students and other watchers congratulated the new graduates. 

A student musical performance followed the degree conferral. The performance, produced by rising fourth-year Architecture student Veronica Merril and edited by rising fourth-year College student Phineas Alexander, was a rendition of “Pompeii” by Bastille composed of several a cappella and choir members, instrumental musicians and dancers.

After the performance, Ryan delivered his remarks, recounting a story from the summer of 1991 when he went on a camping trip but forgot to pack coffee. He connected the story of his caffeine withdrawal and subsequent resolution to never be “100 yards away from coffee” to the current pandemic — that, as students have been deprived of normalcy, they’ve determined what they want to carry with them as they return to life as usual. 

“My hope is that as you prepare to reenter the world at some point, and to start the next chapter of your lives, you’re thinking hard about what you want to bring with you,” Ryan said. “I might suggest that you carry forward with you the values of this place [U.Va.], like trust, honor, integrity and inclusion.”

Charlottesville native Dave Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band, then performed an acoustic solo of “Singing from the Windows” to a photo compilation of University graduates looking out of their windows and balconies. 

The 40-minute ceremony concluded with another performance from Ma and a rendition of the Good Ol’ Song performed by the University Singers a cappella group. 

“We know this doesn’t replace Final Exercises, but we hope you feel loved and celebrated today,” a concluding message read.