Rite of passage goes online: Students still honored and awarded for achievements at end-of-year

Rite of passage goes online: Students still honored and awarded for achievements at end-of-year

C OVID-19 abruptly ended many things in March—like in-person classes, walks on campus and hanging out with friends. Suddenly, faculty and students were scrambling to learn new online teaching tools and finish the semester apart.

It quickly became apparent that end-of-year award ceremonies—a much-appreciated rite of passage—would need to adjust as well. These time-honored celebrations are a moment when everyone takes a breath, slowing down to acknowledge long years of study and achievement—before that big step into the world.

They provide a sense of meaningful closure for students and families.

Theatre students and faculty enjoy an online senior celebration.
Theatre students and faculty enjoy an online senior celebration.

“With our faculty and in our conversations, we felt it was important to take the time and be creative about the hard work our students have put in over the past four years. They were not able to do things they normally would’ve done to finish their college experience,” said Dr. Holley Roberts, interim associate dean of the College of Education.

More than 70 education seniors were put into cohorts the past two years. They were student teaching when the pandemic caused shelter-in-place orders throughout the United States. That kept them from getting together in groups at the end of the year to compare notes.

They were so close for two years and then, all of a sudden, they were separated. It’s important to allow them to come together, now, as a group and celebrate.
– Dr. Holley Roberts
“They were so close for two years and then, all of a sudden, they were separated,” Roberts said. “It’s important to allow them to come together, now, as a group and celebrate.”

Invitation
Invitation
The College of Education will have a PowerPoint celebration on ZOOM with Dean Joseph Peters acknowledging the names and accomplishments of students and their mentors. Awards are given out for Outstanding Undergraduate Student, Outstanding Academic Performance and Outstanding Program Major. Each student receives a Professional Achievement Certificate for things like presenting at a state or national conference, holding office in a local, state or national professional organization, participating in an international experience that is followed by a professional presentation or for receiving a scholarship for a professional performance.

When the main ceremony is done, there will be separate, more-personal online celebrations by individual cohorts for early childhood, middle grades and special education.

“We felt like this was the best way to make sure everyone feels their work is appreciated, and they are appreciated as students,” Roberts said.

Dr. Karen Berman
Dr. Karen Berman
In theatre, students were treated to a “ZOOM Senior Celebration” recently, which included entertainment by Las Vegas comedian, Jeff Civillico. He improvised with students, juggled apples and oranges and held a chair on his chin.

Highlights of the theatre and dance senior ZOOM party.

Faculty and staff read citations for each theatre major or minor. Theatre alumus Steve Holbert was the keynote speaker. He’s now a writer and comedian, who develops TV shows. Holbert gave a funny talk about “what not to do to get into grad school,” said Dr. Karen Berman, artistic chair of theatre and dance.

It was really special. The students and faculty all sent me messages, saying how perfect it was. We had such sad seniors before, who thought they wouldn’t be given a celebration, and they were so grateful.
– Dr. Karen Berman
“It was really special. The students and faculty all sent me messages, saying how perfect it was,” Berman said. “We had such sad seniors before, who thought they wouldn’t be given a celebration, and they were so grateful.”

Other colleges and departments are making sure their seniors get awards ceremonies, too. They include:

•    Dance faculty and students, who held a WebEx party for their end-of-year party.

•    The department of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, which hosted a virtual senior farewell event on WebEx, in lieu of normal end-of-year banquets.

•    The School of Nursing and School of Human Health and Performance, along with Creative Arts Therapies, which are doing virtual events for their students. Nursing sent commemorative pins to students and will show videos of students being pinned at home.

•    The College of Business, which is recognizing its outstanding students with profiles on Front Page and social media.

•    The department of Philosophy, Religion and Liberal Studies, which will hold a virtual celebration with awards for the highest achieving majors. Each student was paired with a faculty member, who’ll comment about them personally and announce what they’re doing after graduation.

•    The division of Student Life, which honored recipients of their annual Bobcat Awards on social media. They give recognition for leadership, wellness and recreation, fraternity and sorority life, service and student organizations.