Piedmont Virginia Community College became the latest institution to embrace virtual graduations, holding its 47th commencement ceremony Monday.
Over the course of the approximately hour-long program, 1,215 degrees and certificates were awarded to 893 students for the 2019-20 academic year.
Though in recent years the ceremony has been held at the John Paul Jones Arena, delays and changes were implemented this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, PVCC held the digital event followed by a drive-thru celebration at the main campus, where faculty and staff cheered on the grads. At the end of the drive-thru event, students were presented with a tote bag containing their diploma cover, alumni keepsakes and other commemorative items.
Piedmont’s 2020 graduates are invited to participate in the school’s graduation ceremony scheduled for spring 2021, as well.
Clad in graduation attire, PVCC President Frank Friedman gave the opening address of the virtual commencement, describing the event as “the most unusual graduation in the history of the college.”
Normally, Friedman said, he’d be delivering this address directly to a crowd of more than 3,000, but that, unfortunately, the past four months have caused widespread changes to everyone’s lives.
“So what are we doing here? Well, your graduation is a very important event and we did not want it to go by without recognizing our graduates and celebrating with them,” he said to approximately 200 live viewers. “In fact, our faculty and staff, who are really your partners in education, they wanted to be a part of your graduation and celebrate with you.”
Friedman highlighted the diverse nature of the students, most of whom he said probably worked full time and fit their education in around their already busy lives. Community colleges are great and diverse institutions, he said, and ones that help their students become informed and engaged citizens.
“Community colleges are often called ‘the people’s college’ or ‘democracy’s college,’ and I want to focus just a moment on that word ‘democracy’ as I share some thoughts with our graduates,” he said. “Most of you came to college thinking about job, career and making money and there’s nothing wrong with that, but higher education is more than that.”
Friedman then introduced this year’s keynote speaker: U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va.
Warner’s prerecorded speech also touched on the importance of civic engagement, as he delivered three pieces of advice for the graduates.
The first was to take risks, he said, and not to be afraid of failure. Warner said his first two businesses failed and he lost his first attempt at public office. Though it would be easy to be dissuaded by these failures, Warner said he took them as lessons and grew to become a successful business owner and politician.
“It’s been my greatest honor in my life to represent the people of Virginia, and I wouldn’t have had any of those opportunities if I hadn’t been willing to take risks,” said Warner, a former governor of the commonwealth.
Warner’s second piece of advice was to be an informed citizen whose knowledge helps to better not only their own lives but the lives of those around them.
“We live in a world where we’re enormously connected by all of our devices, but sometimes I feel like being connected doesn’t mean that we listen to each other,” he said. “Being informed and being an informed citizen doesn’t mean you have to go out and run for political office, but it does mean that as a citizen of Virginia and a citizen of the greatest country in the world, you have an obligation to be informed citizen and to have views,” he said.
The last piece of advice was for graduates to call their mothers, fathers, family member or whoever else assisted them in receiving their degrees.
“Please, after this virtual ceremony, seek them out,” he said. “Not only tell them that you love them but also thank them for helping you go through this journey that allowed you to arrive at this incredible day of celebration.”