Unique celebrations mark the graduation of this year's health solutions grads
Arizona State University President Michael Crow called it “one of the most complex semesters in the history of the known universe.” And for the 850 students who graduated this spring from the College of Health Solutions, it was certainly that and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the final semester of the Class of 2020, with students finishing the last two months of their classes online, completing lab assignments remotely, meeting with advisers and faculty via Zoom, modifying their internship plans and research projects, and marking their graduation with the university’s first-ever virtual commencement.
Despite their physically distanced circumstances, health solutions seniors finished their degrees and were celebrated with the college’s first virtual convocation. Many of the traditional elements of a live convocation were the same, with Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions, addressing the graduates (albeit in a pre-recorded message) and videos showcasing outstanding graduates: Paige Ellis, who earned a Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing sciences, and Hiral Soni, who graduated with a PhD in biomedical informatics. A student highlight video was also part of the ceremony, although featured students had to submit selfie videos instead of being interviewed on campus as they had for past convocations.
In addition to the videos, the website that took the place of the usual one-hour event in Desert Financial Arena on the Tempe campus included individual slides of the graduates, many of whom added photos and special thank you messages.
While she missed congratulating students as they crossed the stage, Helitzer said this year’s virtual event was in many ways more memorable and intimate.
“I was able to spend time getting to know more about our students as I scrolled through the online slides, read their messages and studied their photos, which made me feel connected with them in a way I hadn’t expected,” she said.
The more informal student highlight video also felt more personal, Helitzer said.
“With their selfie videos, I was able to hear their authentic voices as they spoke with passion about their dreams for the future. While the semester didn’t end how we had hoped, the way the members of the Class of 2020 completed their final semester showed their creativity, resilience and flexibility, qualities which will serve them well as they move on to the next step in their journeys.”
Video courtesy of the College of Health Solutions
Creating new ways to celebrate
Health solutions graduates found ways to make the online format special. Anita Daryayani, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition, arranged with a friend to watch the online celebration at the same time from their different locations.
“We made sure to click start at the exact same time on our computers, and we texted each other throughout the ceremony, sharing comments as we watched,” she said.
Teresa Lageson, a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology graduate, said her family made the event memorable.
“They blew up balloons, cooked some of my favorite foods and bought me two cakes,” she said. “They asked me questions about college, like what my favorite class was and what struggles I had. While I didn’t get to walk across the stage this semester, my family celebrated with me, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Several students had to celebrate with family from a distance. Adriana Verdezoto Alvarado, who graduated with her Master of Science in nutrition, watched the ceremony in Arizona while the rest of her family watched in Ecuador.
“They weren’t able to fly to the U.S., but we watched together from our respective computers,” she said. “My dad opened a bottle of champagne and cheered with my mom and sister during the ceremony. I did not have any champagne, so I cheered with water. My dad gave a speech about how proud he was. It was a happy moment for all of us.”
Sepideh Almasi, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, connected online with family too.
“My family is all around the world, so basically it is just me and my husband here, but we celebrated my graduation through Facetime and took screen shots while I was wearing my ASU cap and gown. My husband cooked my favorite food, and I baked my favorite Persian pastries. We will always remember the spring 2020 graduation!”
Several health solutions faculty arranged online celebrations for their students. Nutrition faculty member Maureen McCoy hosted a Zoom reception for about 40 graduates and 18 faculty members who spoke about each student’s accomplishments.
“After each speech, everyone unmuted to clap and celebrate and raise our glasses in a big cheer,” McCoy said. “Students emailed afterwards to say they really enjoyed the experience, that it felt even more personal to them to have that one-on-one time with the faculty and some of their fellow graduates.”
Elavita Benallie earned her bachelor's degree in the science of health care delivery and will pursue an administrative career at the Native Community Health Center.Photo courtesy Elavita Benallie
Anita Daryanani, a graduate of the nutrition program, was recently accepted to the University of California San Diego where she will complete her dietetic internship.Photo courtesy Anita Daryanani
Melissa Domaille earned her degree in healthy lifestyle coaching and plans to open her own equine therapy facility to help people live healthier, happier lives.Photo courtesy Melissa Domaille
Nora Hall, who graduated with her bachelor's degree in dietetics, will be applying to the ASU/Veterans Affairs Dietetic Internship with Master of Science degree in the fall.Photo courtesy Nora Hall
Teresa Lageson earned her bachelor's degree in kinesiology and will be gaining clinical experience as she prepares for a career as a physician assistant.Photo courtesy Teresa Lageson
The first in her family to graduate from college, Elizabeth Nooyen has her degree in medical studies and plans to become a physician assistant.Photo courtesy Elizabeth Nooyen
Adriana Verdezoto Alvarado finished her Master of Science in nutrition and was selected as an American Society for Nutrition Young Minority Investigator. She will present her research at ASN's Nutrition 2020 Live Online meeting in June.Photo courtesy Adriana Verdezoto Alvarado
Nutrition faculty celebrate the accomplishments of their graduating students in a virtual reception.Photo courtesy Maureen McCoy
Neha Parikh has her bachelor's degree in kinesiology and is on her way to Midwestern University for a master's degree in cardiovascular sciences.Photo courtesy Neha Parikh
When the Class of 2020 began as first-year students in 2016, they were the largest class in ASU history. Their graduation has been equally historic.
“Our students will likely never forget the hurdles they overcame — and all the time they spent on Zoom!” Helitzer said. “This unusual semester had us connecting and celebrating in ways we had never done before, which has been a silver lining of this shared experience. We can’t wait to see what the Class of 2020 accomplishes next.”