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Officials urge Class of 2020 to persevere amid pandemic uncertainty

Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor
This year’s virtual Commencement ceremony featured remarks from several administrators, like University President Thomas LeBlanc and Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights.

In an online Commencement ceremony Sunday, officials recognized the Class of 2020 for their hard work during their time at GW and perseverance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In lieu of an official Commencement speaker, several officials addressed the Class of 2020 and charged graduates to reflect and learn from their experiences and challenges as students. University President Thomas LeBlanc said the class is an “exceptional” group and urged graduates to face challenges with “creativity” and “optimism” during the pandemic and beyond.

“It is in times like these, when we remember that communities needn’t share geography, but they must share values, care and support one another,” LeBlanc said. “And by these measures, we remain a strong community.”

Officials canceled Commencement in March amid concerns over COVID-19 and announced a virtual ceremony to celebrate the Class of 2020 in April. LeBlanc invited graduating seniors to attend next year’s Commencement ceremony on the National Mall.

Provost Brian Blake said he was excited to participate in GW’s Commencement ceremony in his first year as provost and understood the disappointment students felt to hear the in-person ceremony was canceled. He said the online ceremony was unprecedented, but the support and encouragement students have received throughout their time at GW from family, friends, classmates and mentors has prepared them to confront challenges.

“In this challenging time, your resilience is more important than ever,” Blake said. “Your accomplishments during this difficult time was a perfect example of how the GW community has persevered.”

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights said the pandemic has brought anxiety-inducing uncertainty, but the graduates’ education will help them to “secure” the future and guide others through upcoming challenges while still continuing to learn from others around them.

“Your ‘Only at GW’ education and experiences have prepared you for this moment,” Speights said. “At GW you embrace uncertainty and welcome being pushed outside of your comfort zone. At GW you ask complicated questions, without easy answers, and engage in thought-provoking discourse with your professors and peers.”

Patricia Carocci, the senior associate vice president of alumni relations and annual giving, said the GW Alumni Association will continue offering students career guidance and help them build professional networks despite challenges presented by the pandemic. She said alumni – who usually attend Commencement in person – were watching the ceremony at home and supporting students from afar.

“The support we provide each other and the connections we weave as GW alumni, strengthen the fabric of our community and help us to find a path forward, even in the midst of uncertainty,” Carocci said.

Former Student Association President SJ Matthews began her remarks with a quote from Belva Ann Lockwood, the first female graduate of GW Law, urging graduates to “set their own precedence” and form creative solutions to pressing societal issues. She encouraged graduates to channel their frustration surrounding the pandemic into making positive impacts on their communities.

“It’ll be on us to rise to the occasion,” Matthews said. “It’ll be on us to set our own precedence.”

LeBlanc closed his remarks by congratulating graduates for their perseverance amid the uncertainty of the pandemic and conferred degrees to the Class of 2020.

“Class of 2020, I know that you will continue to bring your leadership and service to your communities around the world,” LeBlanc said. “And I know that no matter the challenges ahead, you will rise up and raise high.”

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