Dickinson State University's 100th spring commencement was not quite how anyone would have envisioned it at the start of the semester.
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of all school facilities in North Dakota, DSU's seniors finished the last classes of their college career online, and the commencement ceremony that traditionally honors their work and provides closure to their college experience was also moved online in a pre-recorded format for the first time.
"We made a decision that everything would be pre-recorded, and the reason we did that is just if there are functionality issues … just because we were concerned about the delivery," said Kathleen Meyer, director of academic records and chair of the commencement planning committee.
In addition to pre-recorded speeches, the YouTube presentation featured a PowerPoint with a slide for each graduate.
"On their personal slide, we had their name of course, and their degree, academic program, and then if they had honors, that was also included," she said. "On the actual PowerPoint, I recorded the name of each student just like I would say during the live ceremony … Our intent was to replicate things as much as we could for the virtual ceremony like we do the live ceremony."
The commencement was streamed Saturday at 10 a.m., the same day and time it was originally planned, then televised on Consolidated's channel 18 on Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
DSU awarded seven master’s degrees, 149 baccalaureate degrees and 46 associate degrees during the virtual spring commencement ceremony.
President Steve Easton addressed the graduates in the YouTube video.
“We want to applaud your hard work and your determination to reach this very important academic milestone, and especially this last semester of your last year, which turned out to be a very interesting one, which none of us anticipated. And we respect the way that you hung in there and kept driving toward your finish line, even though we had to change … our learning environment from a face-to-face environment to an online environment.”
Student speaker Suzanna Moberg spoke to the idea of "new normals," a phrase that has often been used to describe the pandemic. Throughout our lives we experience change. Throughout our lives we must get used to new circumstances. Students face an uncharted world when they begin college and again when they leave college to pursue their careers, said Moberg.
"This isn’t quite the senior year we had planned for ourselves," she said. "This definitely isn’t the graduation ceremony that we probably all envisioned. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from our collective journeys, it’s that we’re pretty good at getting used to new normals. Now, outside of this place, is a new world full of amazing new normals for each and every one of us."
After the ceremony, graduates parked on Campus Drive for a reverse parade. Community members as well as DSU faculty and staff drove through the loop and honked in celebration of the graduates.
"It was incredible. It was so much fun," said Michelle Wilson, director of university relations. "The turnout was better than we had expected, both from the graduate participation and their families and from the community members and campus members. I was really glad that our campus and our community came together and were able to provide those well wishes and congratulations that the students deserve ... We wanted to do everything that we could to recognize them since they weren’t able to enjoy that traditional ceremony that they’ve all worked so hard for."