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Cap, gown and laptop: This is what UL virtual commencement looks like for spring 2020 grads + TV Sch

, Lafayette Daily Advertiser, May 15, 2020

Sarah Dupont, 23, of Kenner is a spring 2020 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She will celebrate with her family at home watching a virtual commencement ceremony via livestream May 15, 2020.

Sarah Dupont, 23, of Kenner is a spring 2020 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She will celebrate with her family at home watching a virtual commencement ceremony via livestream May 15, 2020. (Photo: Courtesy)

In a world of COVID-19, large, in-person graduation ceremonies have been deemed unsafe, forcing university officials to get creative for the spring 2020 class.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, like others across the country, will provide all the pomp and circumstance but in a virtual way starting at 10 a.m. Friday.

The general assembly and commencement speakers will be livestreamed Friday on the Spring 2020 Commencement website and televised Saturday on local cable stations. The names of all graduates will scroll across the screen, listed by college. 

Graduates were asked to provide photos, 10-second videos and quotes ahead of the ceremony, and personalized pages with those elements were created for those who responded.

For Sarah Dupont, 23, virtual commencement means searching for her name from her driveway in Kenner, where she's been back home with her family since school shifted online in March.

The elementary education major was student-teaching first grade at J. Wallace James Elementary in Lafayette. But with schools closed and a governor's order to stay home, she chose to ride it out with her mom, dad and sister, a junior at Loyola University also returning home for quarantine.

"I think Mom loves me being home," Dupont said with a laugh.

The senior had already bought her red cap and gown, and the university mailed her honors cords. So she's ready for the big day, even if that looks different than expected.

"It has been a very different semester," Dupont said. "It feels really weird. It's kind of surreal — like it's not real, but it is. But I'm OK with it. I'm glad I'm safe and healthy."

Even though it's not UL graduation at the Cajundome, 'I still feel celebrated'

Her family will order some food and celebrate their firstborn's graduation from college outside if the weather allows. They're borrowing a projector from the neighbor to put the broadcast on the side of the garage.

They'll all watch from the driveway or front yard. Being outside allows them to invite Grandma for the occasion, because they can sit six feet apart, Dupont explained. 

"I would like to actually have a real graduation, but I don't know if I could come later (if it had been postponed)," she said.

More: University of Louisiana at Lafayette grads, share your virtual graduation celebration photos!

She hopes to be starting her first year of teaching at an elementary school around Kenner come August. She's been applying and doing virtual interviews since she's been home.

She had been student-teaching since August, and the required number of teaching hours was waived since schools closed for the rest semester.

"I was pretty sad. I miss all the kids," Dupont said. "I think I'm prepared to teach from what I had previously, even though I didn't finish."

She's happy to have the chance to celebrate her years' of hard work with the livestream Friday.

"I still feel celebrated," Dupont said. "I'm glad they're doing something."

Her parents are a little sad about not getting to see their daughter cross the stage at the Cajundome.

"I think my mom is more upset than me," Dupont said.

She also might connect with her fellow education majors via Zoom conference call to celebrate together. They've gotten close over the last four years and kept in touch after campus closed.

"We've all been in the same classes this whole time," Dupont said.

Watching live from the living room in cap, gown and pajamas

Jade Duhon, 22, of Maurice is a spring 2020 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She will celebrate with her family at home watching a virtual commencement ceremony via livestream May 15, 2020.

Jade Duhon, 22, of Maurice is a spring 2020 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She will celebrate with her family at home watching a virtual commencement ceremony via livestream May 15, 2020. (Photo: Andre Broussard)

For Jade Duhon, 22, graduation is more like putting her cap and gown over her pajamas to watch for her name during the ceremony.

"My plans for Friday are very minimal," Duhon said.

She'll set up her computer in her living room in Maurice, where she lives with her grandparents, and they'll all watch together. And she'll FaceTime some close friends and family members to have them "close by," she said.

"They're very proud of me graduating," Duhon said. "I'm the first one in my family to graduate from college. They're sad I don't get a traditional graduation or get to walk.

"But it just matters that I finished. It doesn't matter if I have a ceremony," she said.

She plans to have a graduation party with all her family and friends whenever it's safer to gather in crowds.

She'll graduate with a bachelor's in general studies with a concentration in behavioral science. She plans to work on an alternative teaching certification over the summer and become an elementary teacher in Acadiana.

"I chose a lot of different majors in my college journey," Duhon said. "I think I always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't realize that until later."

More: Petition: UL Lafayette seniors deserve 'proper graduation ceremony' for class of 2020

Her final semester threw her for a loop. 

"This semester has been crazy — from being excited about being a senior to being thrown into the whirlwind of online classes," Duhon said.

It wasn't an easy transition moving from face-to-face classes to completing her last five courses fully online and from home.

"I focus better in a classroom setting," she said.

Now that she's done, she's focusing on celebrating this major accomplishment and figuring out what's next.

"It feels awesome to be done, but also kind of scary because the real world is starting," Duhon said. "It's scary because you don't know what it's going to be like with the economy, getting a job, what the procedures will be (as places reopen)."

More: Many Louisiana universities opening campuses to students this fall

How to watch:

The virtual ceremonies will be accessible on the Spring 2020 Commencement website (commencement.louisiana.edu) starting at 10 a.m. Friday.

They will be available for viewing 24/7 for several weeks. Later they will be available for viewing via the UL Lafayette YouTube channel, according to the school.

Families can watch the ceremony again Saturday on TV. It will air at 4:30 p.m. on KATC and at 6:30 p.m. on KLFY, KADN and KLAF.




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