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ASU's Fall 2020 graduates urged to write the charter of their own futures

December 14, 2020

Virtual commencement features augmented reality app and images of graduates tossing their caps in their backyards and living rooms, along with other traditional elements

Even in the midst of a pandemic, Arizona State University’s fall 2020 graduates were encouraged to be happy about their achievements and were assured that they are ready for the future.

“I take great pride in the talent our students have demonstrated and the compassion our students have brought to the table,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said during the commencement video Monday morning. “I’ve seen tremendous creativity.

“We’ve had student groups build mobile distributed PPE manufacturing systems. We’ve seen huge student engagement in our missions off Earth. And we’ve seen huge development at the university in sustainable systems and sustainable technologies.”

MORE: Learn more about top-performing fall 2020 grads

The half-hour recording took the place of the commencement ceremony that is typically held on campus but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The video included images of graduates tossing their caps in their backyards and living rooms, along with other traditional elements: “Pomp and Circumstance,” guest speakers, the balloon drop and a flashback to the Class of 2020’s Sun Devil Welcome freshman rally in August 2016.

ASU is graduating 9,300 students this semester, including about 4,500 ASU Online graduates. 

Besides the YouTube video, ASU also is providing an augmented reality commencement experience. Through a smartphone app, members of the Sun Devil community can bring the ceremony into their own homes, watching as the ceremonial mace is placed in front of them and speeches are presented in their living room. The ASU commencement app was created by students in ASU's Meteor Studio in coordination with the XR at ASU initiative.

MORE: Learn more about the student-created AR app

The Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU also featured a technology-enhanced ceremony. The online event took place within an immersive virtual reality rendering of Thunderbird’s new global headquarters, opening in August 2021. The commencement speaker appeared as a holographic projection within the virtual building, which mirrors the real headquarters under construction now at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. That event can be viewed by anyone with access to a virtual reality headset or seen on YouTube. 

In addition to the virtual commencement, colleges and schools also hosted virtual convocations on Monday morning. Those smaller ceremonies featured a special moment for each graduate with their name, photo, degree and a comment from them about their future.

In addition, the fall 2020 graduates can attend the May 2021 or December 2021 in-person commencement ceremonies if they wish.

Larry Penley, chair of the Arizona Board of Regents, told the graduates that with a degree, they will be better citizens and earn higher wages.

“Yes, a college degree is valuable even now in the face of a recession and this economy,” he said. “This is a new economy driven by a demand for higher skills, more capability than we’ve seen in the past and more thinking skills.

“Your degree has prepared you for an economy based on those skills.”

Crow reminded the graduates of ASU’s charter and its commitment to inclusion and community responsibility.

“I’m hopeful as you move forward that you take these lessons you have learned in the middle of the pandemic and be introspective about yourself,” he said.

“And that you sit back and say, ‘How can I have even more impact than I thought? How can my life be greater?’”

He asked the graduates to write their own charters.

“I ask you, in this moment of deep complexity, what is your charter and how will you live toward that charter?”

Find links to all the ceremonies at

Top screenshot: ASU President Michael M. Crow speaks during the virtual commencement Monday. 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Starbucks College Achievement Plan scholar ready for her next challenge

December 14, 2020

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

After her shift as a Starbucks barista, Annika Carlson would take off her apron, sit down in the lobby and start her studies. In fact, work was her favorite place to do homework. With a desire to learn and seek better career opportunities, Carlson enrolled with ASU Online through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP). ASU Online student and 2020 Graduate Annika Carlson Annika Carlson. Download Full Image

As Carlson worked her way toward a bachelor’s degree, she was able to find a solid support system and helpful resources all around her. She was able to work closely with academic advisers provided through The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for help with her professional goals and relied on her store’s fellow SCAP Scholars for support, inspiration and encouragement. “My friends who were also enrolled in SCAP truly gave me a sense of community in Sun Devil Nation.”

Originally from Holland, Michigan, a small town 30 minutes south of Grand Rapids, Carlson was always interested in the field of anthropology. “At some point after taking my first anthropology class, I declared it as my major because I liked how the field intersected with physical and social sciences.” Carlson is now graduating from ASU with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and a minor in global health. 

As she nears graduation, Carlson is already thinking about her next challenge, “In March, I am moving to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to serve as a team leader for the FEMA Corps.”   

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

Answer: I was surprised to learn that I like statistics, because I always thought I hated math. It was actually my social statistics professor, Ryan Field, who taught me this. In fact, it turns out I really like statistics.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: In addition to the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, I also really liked what I saw about ASU’s anthropology program and their faculty. I enjoyed the flexibility of being an online student. The ability to work ahead if needed or study at odd hours helped her succeed.

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

A: I learned a lot from many different professors. The most important lessons I learned were to do with what types of careers I could see myself pursuing. After taking Daniel Hruschka’s medical anthropology class, I realized I was interested in how society impacts health care. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Seek tutoring before your grades start dropping, if you are struggling in a class ask for help. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Help strengthen mental health services globally, particularly mental health services in primary care settings.

Written by Tuesday Mahrle, earned media specialist for EdPlus at Arizona State University