Students finishing University at the end of 2020 weren’t able to participate in a physical graduation ceremony due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. Granted, these formal events are not always as innovative and engaging as they could be. Steeped in tradition and featuring regalia (cap and gown) signalling levels of academic achievement, some would argue that these ceremonies are out of touch with modern values. Despite this, most people agree that it’s still important to celebrate important lifetime achievements such as successfully completing a tertiary degree!
In the absence of a traditional, physical graduation ceremony option our digital media alumni group organised a virtual alternative: the ‘Officially Unofficial Graduation Ceremony’, held via Zoom on a Monday evening.
I was tasked with saying a few words to encourage, inspire and recognise our graduates (representing the group as both a former student and current teacher at Deakin University). Before I started writing, I searched the web for ‘graduation speeches’ in a quest to find ideas and inspiration. I found various blogs with listicles of the most inspiring ‘commencement speeches’ (a term mostly used in America). The same names were often featured near the top of these lists: Steve Jobs (Stanford, 2005), Michelle Obama (Tuskegee, 2015), Natalie Portman (Harvard, 2015), and Amy Poehler (Harvard, 2011) among others. Many quotes that I found were inspiring but somehow, not quite suited to a virtual graduation ceremony at the end of 2020. I left the computer for a while and to ponder…
I came to the conclusion that I needed to compose a very short speech (a lengthy speech via Zoom might kill the celebratory vibe very quickly)! Quite simply, I wanted to congratulate our graduates and provide them with hope and inspiration for the future. Once I had settled on these goals I started drafting, inspired in-part by a book I was reading at the time called ‘This One Wild and Precious Life’ by Sarah Wilson and some recent posts and videos I had seen on Instagram.
Below is the speech I gave on the night…
In the crazy and somewhat unprecedented year that 2020 has been, graduating from your degree is an amazing achievement, and one that you’ve most likely had to fight harder for than you expected to almost 12-months ago, given all of the extra obstacles that have been thrown your way.
So, take this moment and be proud of your achievements, before moving forward with hope.
For some of you, graduation is something that formalises and embeds your existing skill set and career path, for others this is the beginning of something completely new. For some of you, the next step is uncertain and if this year has reminded us of anything, it’s that life is uncertain.
Life is a continuous journey of learning, growing and finding your way, along the way. If you feel that you’ve finished, you have certainly finished this thing, but there are still many more exciting and challenging steps to conquer on the road ahead.
As staff and fellow students at Deakin, we have been honoured to have you with us and we look forward to staying in touch, and collaborating with you into the future.
One of the most exciting things to consider now is that regardless of your particular degree, you will all be storytellers of some kind. You have the skills and experience to communicate with, and persuade others on any number of topics. This is so powerful because what our world needs more than anything right now is clear communication and empathy for others which can lead to meaningful change.
I don’t want to turn this into a climate change rant but I really feel that David Attenborough’s final Instagram video is fitting here, for several reasons. So, over to you, Sir David and congratulations to every one of you for achieving this very important step in your journey!
Are you a teacher or student in Higher Education? I’d love to hear some of the innovative ways that you celebrated graduation during 2020! Share your thoughts below…