The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith hosted a virtual commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 12, to honor graduation candidates of the spring, summer, and fall semesters of 2020 in a safe and socially-distanced manner to minimize the potential threat of COVID-19 for students, faculty, staff and their families.
The online ceremonies featured 469 UAFS graduates who elected to participate and brought the traditional elements of commencement to life on the screen, including speeches of praise and encouragement, the singing of the Alma Mater, and an induction to the UAFS Alumni Association.
Although a virtual ceremony was not how most graduates envisioned this day, many were still thankful for the opportunity to be acknowledged and to celebrate their accomplishments with their families.
“Of course, missing out on an in-person graduation ceremony was upsetting to a lot of seniors, but I know UAFS cares so much about the safety of its students and our families,” said Taely Dedmon, who graduated with the fall 2020 class with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. “My mom and I were doing some shopping, so we parked to tune into the live broadcast at 10. She burst into tears as soon as the music started playing,” Dedmon laughed, “And I think I was just as nervous as I would have been crossing the stage!”
Coby Porter, a fall 2020 Media Communication graduate watched from his apartment in Chicago, having already accepted a job this fall while finishing his degree online. Donning his UAFS Alumni t-shirt for the first time, Porter joined a Zoom call with friends and family in Fort Smith to celebrate the day.
“Graduating from UAFS was a dream come true,” Porter said. “Though I wasn’t able to walk across a stage, it was a blessing to be able to zoom with my family, and listen to our great chancellor, and staff, honor and congratulate the graduates.”
The virtual event began with the launch of a video in which UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley welcomed graduates and their supporters to this new kind of celebration and applauded the hard work and dedication of the 2020 graduates.
“Since day one you’ve stayed dedicated to your classwork, you’ve made great new friends, you’ve worked with amazing faculty and caring and dedicated staff members,” Dr. Riley said in her address. “We know that you can achieve any goal you set for yourself, and we look forward to the day when we can gather to provide you with your diplomas in person. Until that time, the very best of luck to you. We know you can do anything you set your mind to.
University of Arkansas System President Dr. Donald R. Bobbitt followed Riley’s speech, commending the graduates on their perseverance during such an uncertain and tumultuous time.
“It is you, our graduates, who have enriched this campus over the past several years with your presence and your dreams, and you now provide inspiration for us all during these challenging times,” Bobbitt said. “You have shown that if one holds fast to one dream in spite of these significant challenges, it can be achieved even if it requires that we travel new unexplored paths.”
Commencement speaker John Jeter, director, and conductor of the Fort Smith Symphony, encouraged students to embrace their excellence, stay enthusiastic, and look forward to the future each day.
“Your accomplishments are particularly impressive in light of the very strange year of 2020,” he said. “You have had excellent teachers, demanding instruction, and challenging coursework. Having collaborated with UAFS faculty for over 20 years, I am confident that the quality education you received has made you more skilled at your craft, giving you a much greater understanding of your field of study, as well as making you a more well-rounded individual. There’s no doubt that you have the tools and skills ready to start the next phase of your lives.”
Members of the UAFS Foundation Board and the UAFS Board of Visitors, including Fort Smith mayor George McGill closed the initial video with advice, congratulations, and praise.
UAFS administrators welcomed graduates for a traditional reading of names and degrees conferred during a virtual processional in subsequent videos. Each college presented a unique video tribute with introductions from faculty and deans, including Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology; Dr. Latisha Settlage, interim dean of the College of Business; Dr. Paul Hankins, dean of the College of Communication, Languages, Arts and Social Sciences; Dr. Linus Yu, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; and Dr. Lynn Korvick, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences.
The UAFS alma mater was played under the direction of Dr. Alexandra Zacharella, associate professor of music, and featured soloist Audra Weathers, a UAFS music major. The final element of the virtual commencement ceremony was a tribute from the UAFS Alumni Association, welcoming graduates into the next phase of their life as Lions.
While the virtual ceremony was open to spring and summer graduates who wished to participate, a total of 448 students completed graduation requirements during this year’s fall semester.
For more commencement information and a link to the playlist, go to academics.uafs.edu/records/commencement-information.