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UCLA graduation speakers 2020

Old traditions, new forms: Virtual celebrations honor graduates

UCLA’s graduation festivities will feature speakers like actor, activist and alumnus George Takei and California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.
May 28, 2020
UCLA graduation speakers 2020

For the first time in UCLA’s 100 years, commencement has been postponed, but virtual ceremonies have sprung up in their place to celebrate this year’s nearly 14,000 graduates.

Most schools and departments already plan to reschedule in-person ceremonies once the novel coronavirus pandemic eases enough to make group gatherings safe. Meanwhile, the current celebrations will be a mix of new and old as staff seek out creative ways to bring a century of tradition to students in entirely new formats.

“Despite the current challenges, this is an important moment to celebrate the hard work, brilliance, sacrifices and successes of our graduates,” said Chancellor Gene Block. “We want graduates and their families and friends to feel all of the pride and joy that they so richly deserve.”

Grad season began May 15 with UCLA School of Law, and continues through late June with more than a dozen virtual ceremonies planned for thousands of students. About 8,800 undergrads are expected to graduate this year from the UCLA College, which hosts the largest celebration. A calendar listing of various ceremonies is included below.

This graduation season marks the end of UCLA’s centennial year. Centennial graduates will hear from several big-name speakers, like actor, alumnus and activist George Takei for the UCLA College. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the virtual ceremony for the law school May 15. The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA will hear from California’s first surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris; the senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, Mike Hopkins, is scheduled to speak to graduates of the Anderson School of Management; and Jason Droege, the former head of Uber Eats, is scheduled to speak at the Samueli School of Engineering’s virtual ceremony.

Schools are shortening their traditional ceremonies to make them more video-friendly, and some will offer build-your-own ceremonies in which students can select different pre-recorded components of the ceremony to view. These will be the first graduation ceremonies students can fast-forward through. Others are hosting department-specific graduations or building breakout rooms into the program so students can hear their names read aloud among their cohort.

At least one group planned a drive-through campus celebration: the Academic Advancement Program for first generation, low-income and historically underrepresented students hosted a physically distant drive-up Celebration of Excellence for graduates on May 27.

As students attend live-streamed, pre-recorded or Zoom ceremonies from their living rooms, some will wear tasseled mortarboards or doctoral hoods they ordered in the mail, and digital templates have been sent out to arts and architecture students to allow them to craft their own caps. At least one school will offer individual online cards where students’ friends can add messages and pictures. Custom Zoom backgrounds, personalized student-submitted slides, tassel-turning compilation videos, downloadable celebration signs, and recorded congratulations from famous alumni are also part of this year’s pomp and circumstance.

In addition to school and departmental celebrations, virtual gatherings are also planned by affinity groups, such as the May 30 toast to first-generation college students, or the virtual Lavender Graduation on June 20 hosted by the LGBTQ Resource Center.

Until in-person commencements can be held, some of the many 2020 virtual celebrations include:

Friday, May 29

3 p.m. Nadine Burke Harris, the California surgeon general, will speak at the virtual celebration for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Thursday, June 11

4 p.m. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, will speak to graduates at the virtual celebration for GSEIS.

5 p.m. The doctoral class of 2020 will be celebrated with a virtual celebration by the UCLA Graduate Division.

Friday, June 12

9 a.m. John Pérez, chair of the University of California Board of Regents and former speaker of the California Assembly, will speak at the virtual celebration for the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

2 p.m. The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television will have a virtual celebration led by interim dean Brian Kite, which will include a year-in-review video and guest speakers.

3 p.m. George Takei, actor and social justice activist, will speak at the virtual celebration for the UCLA College.

3 p.m La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will speak at the virtual celebration for the Fielding School of Public Health.

4 p.m. Mike Hopkins, the senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, will speak at the virtual celebration for the Anderson School of Management.

Saturday, June 13

8:30 a.m. for students earning bachelor’s degrees with additional times to be announced for other programs C. Alicia Georges, professor and chair of the Department of Nursing at Lehman College of the City University of New York who was named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, will speak at the virtual celebration for the School of Nursing.

10 a.m. Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, will speak at the virtual celebration for the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.

12:30 p.m. Jason Droege, the former head of Uber Eats, will speak at the virtual celebration for the Samueli School of Engineering.

Friday, June 19

4 p.m. The keynote speaker for the virtual celebration for the Herb Alpert School of Music is scheduled to be announced the week of June 1.