CHICAGO (CBS) — It wasn’t the graduation day many college seniors dreamed of, but on Saturday, millions of students across the country were brought together in a much different way.
The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to cancel elaborate in-person ceremonies. But as CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reported Saturday night, the Class of 2020 – including students at the University of Illinois – got a virtual commencement they won’t soon forget.
It took a novel coronavirus that has already infected more than 4.5 million people around the world and killed more than 300,000 to upend more than 150 years of history in Champaign.
“You have done something never done before,” said Chancellor Robert Jones.
Jones began Saturday’s virtual graduation by noting the historic significance for the thousands of graduates.
“For the first time in 152 years, the halls are empty. The place of knowledge stood still,” a voiceover said to images of an empty campus building.
So that meant that graduates like Gordon Young had to stand in their homes with immediate family members instead of on campus surrounded by thousands who traveled to Champaign to cheer them on.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” Young said. “I never got to do a lot of the opportunities that a lot of college seniors get to do, especially with graduation getting a whole ceremony, getting to take pictures in the quad.”
Instead, it was pictures in the kitchen with balloons, or in front of the tv as the chancellor was giving his address.
but the president of the university says there will eventually be an in person ceremony.
“I’m so sorry we can’t celebrate together right now, but we still hope to make that happen in the months to come,” U of I President Timothy Killeen said in the graduation address.
And Young, who turned 22 Saturday, is acutely aware of the importance of social distancing because his mom is works on the front lines as a doctor.
“It seemed like the best possible option for graduation, you know, seeing everything that our state our country is going through,” he said.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, it was also a virtual celebration for dental school graduates and more than 5,000 other people earning degrees today at the Near West Side campus.
“Global events like this current pandemic have the potential to change the direction of history itself,” said UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
Changing the arch of history was also on the mind of former President Barack Obama when he addressed the nation’s historically black colleges and universities – also from a safe social distance.
“As African-Amreicans, we are particularly attuned to injustice, inequality, and struggle, but that also should make us more alive to the experiences of others who’ve been left out and discriminated against,” Obama said.
The plan is to have in-person ceremonies at both the UIC and Champaign-Urbana campus. No dates for those celebrations have been determined just yet.