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Class of 2020 told, 'Be prepared to create'

May 11, 2020

Speakers at virtual commencement acknowledge this is a time of unprecedented uncertainty but remind the newest alumni that they have shown grit in finishing strong

Arizona State University celebrated its newest graduates virtually on Monday, marking the most extraordinary graduation in the history of the institution.

The half-hour recording took the place of the spring 2020 commencement ceremonies that were to be held at Sun Devil Stadium (undergraduate) and Desert Financial Arena (graduate), where thousands of students and their families were going to mark their graduation. The in-person commencement transitioned to a virtual ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ASU switched to remote learning and teaching in mid-March.

The Class of 2020, more than half of whom are Arizona residents, included about 11,200 undergraduate students (about 4,200 of those online), more than 5,000 graduate students, more than 900 military-affiliated students and more than 6,500 students graduating with honors, the largest cohort to hold that distinction. Among the newest ASU alumni were nearly 700 Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduates and five students making up the first graduating cohort of ASU's partnership with ride-share company Uber

Monday's virtual ceremony included elements of a typical commencement: “Pomp and Circumstance,” the university mace, and congratulations and encouragement for ASU’s nearly 16,400 graduates from several distinguished speakers. 

MORE: Meet notable graduates from around the university

ASU President Michael Crow thanked the students for their perseverance through uncertainty and complexity.

“This is a hugely important day. Students’ lives are moving forward,” he said. “They completed successfully their last term, their projects, their activities, engaging in hundreds of thousands of video interactions and millions of minutes of Zoom time.

“It’s been a fantastic moment of opportunity and creativity.”

Crow said that the message of the times is, “Be prepared.”

“You need to be prepared to enhance your learning. You need to be prepared to enhance your innovation capabilities. You need to enhance your voice with new ideas and new ways of getting things done. You need to be prepared to create,” he said.

“Be prepared to do what’s necessary to help us address all the complexities that our modern world confronts us with.”

Ruth McGregor, former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, told the graduates that they have been tested.

“You have already demonstrated courage and the will to continue as you completed your degrees under the most unexpected and difficult circumstances imaginable,” she said.

“You are fortunate because you already know that you can overcome obstacles and continue to follow your path.”

The speakers also acknowledged the sadness of the circumstances.

Leah Jones, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association at ASU, who is earning her PhD in sustainability, asked the graduate students to close their eyes and imagine being together at commencement.

“As we open our eyes, this image is not what surrounds us,” she said.

“We’re at home, maybe with family or maybe we’re alone. We’re preoccupied by the context of our world, by the way it’s distorted our lives and that of people around us.”

She recognized that graduates may be feeling disappointment and frustration.

“Even if you don’t feel in a celebratory mood, I encourage you to pause even for just a moment, and be proud of all that you accomplished,” she said.

School of Music student Ben Cortez recorded a new version of the ASU alma mater.

Luis Alberto Moreno, a graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, told the graduates that although the outlook is uncertain, they should consider the big picture.

“You have to remember that you have earned a degree at a highly respected university in what is the world’s most advanced nation,” he said. “Only the tiniest fraction of humanity has access to the kind of opportunities you have had at ASU.”

He said that the Class of 2020 is graduating at a turning point in history.

“This crisis that we’re experiencing, with all of its heartbreaking costs, might well give birth to profound social, economic and political change — changes that we can only begin to imagine,” he said.

“And the world that will emerge from this challenge will need smart, energetic and, more importantly, creative people like you to shape and to lead those changes.”

The ceremony included highlights of the past four years of the Class of 2020, including Sun Devil Welcome in August 2016, the renovations of Sun Devil Stadium and Hayden Library, Olympian Michael Phelps joining the “Curtain of Distraction,” “Hamilton” at ASU Gammage in 2018 and the rapid move of everything online this past semester. 

In addition to the virtual commencement, colleges and schools also are hosting virtual convocations on May 11-12. At those smaller ceremonies, there will be a special moment for each graduate with their name, photo, degree and a comment from them about their future.

Today’s graduates also can attend the December 2020 or May 2021 in-person commencement ceremonies if they wish. 

The end of the commencement video included a performance of the alma mater by the Devil Clefs student group, with scenes from the ASU community over the past two months: making personal protective equipment, researching the virus in labs, treating patients, collecting donations and painting the “A” blue to honor health care workers. 

Then the maroon and gold balloons dropped onscreen. 

Watch the 2020 ASU virtual commencement ceremony

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


For ASU grad, speech and debate helped light a fire for politics

May 11, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Spring 2020 ASU graduate Alexander Sojourney discovered his passion for politics at ASU, and he hopes to continue that passion in the nation’s capital. Alexander Sojourney Alexander Sojourney Download Full Image

Sojourney, who is completing his degree in political science this month, was involved with many student organizations throughout his time at ASU. He participated in Undergraduate Student Government, the Speech and Debate club, Devils on the Run and the Black Student Union at the West campus. 

As a junior, Sojourney was the student body president at the West campus, and as a senior he was the president of the Black African Coalition. Sojourney, who is from Glendale, Arizona, was also the recipient of the Presidential and New American University scholarships.

As a first-year student, Sojourney joined ASU’s Speech and Debate club, where he discovered his passion for politics.

“It occured to me midway through the semester that I think where my passion lies is being involved with politics at the local level, at the national level and specifically for me at the campus level,” Sojourney said.

Looking toward the future, Sojourney hopes to attend Georgetown University's democracy and governance master’s degree program. The program in Washington, D.C., focuses on exposure to professional experience, reputation, languages and education in public service.

As Sojourney prepared to graduate, he reflected on his time at ASU and some of the lessons he learned along the way.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: Originally I had a major in the Thunderbird School of Global Management, but I met a friend my freshman year who wanted to make a debate club. I was in high school speech and debate. …  I think that's what made me change my major, and that was the “aha” moment for me to join student government, for me to be a campus liaison and actually make sure that if there are any changes students want, I would be able to institute those changes so students have a better time being a Sun Devil.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: For me, something that surprised me about ASU was giving me the opportunity of traveling out of the country. For USG we were able to go to Hong Kong for an international trip for the PLuS Alliance, and it really solidified the fact to me personally that ASU is a global-reaching university.

We have so many locations and campuses that are out of the United States, and we have collaborations with other universities. When ASU talks about how it's a global university you really don’t have a perspective of it until you actually speak with students from Kings College, London, or from the University of New South Wales in Australia, and you actually talk about the history and the backstory and the context behind how ASU has all these massive partnerships. It really makes me happy to be a Sun Devil.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The selling point for me was Barrett, The Honors College. It was rated the No. 1 honors college by the New York Times, and I think that was a main selling point. 

Out of high school I really wanted to continue being academically challenged, and for me looking at the competition ASU was the best value. It was the best education and job-prospect-wise after graduation; it just seemed like it was the better choice.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As of right now I am working for the Arizona Supreme Court. I am going to finish up my internship with them in late May, and then I am going to be applying to some fellowships for grad school. I’m looking at the Rangel Fellowship and Pickering Foreign Affairs Program. My plan, if I hopefully get accepted, is to attend Georgetown's democracy and governance master’s program.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I had the opportunity to meet internship coordinator Gisela Grant during my junior year at ASU while being selected to be an ASU Capital Scholar. My first interaction with Professor Grant, I was struck by her level of professionalism, her commitment to excellence and her no-nonsense personality. I admired the amount of self-sacrifice she would put in helping every student succeed. Professor Grant has helped me during my time at ASU by expecting more of me, which made me expect more of me.

Written by Madeleine Williamson, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services