Masks muffled the collective sighs of relief at MTSU‘s fall 2020 commencement ceremonies Saturday, Nov. 21, when nearly 2,100 graduates and their loved ones realized that this part of 2020, at least, was finally complete.
Nothing could silence their shouts of celebration, though, as they wreaked a bit of happy havoc outdoors in the sunshine, and later, the evening air, in Floyd Stadium.
“I know that many of you would not have chosen to persevere through an academic year with so many unknowns that posed so many changes to your routine,” university President Sidney A. McPhee told the merry, masked graduates at the day’s three commencement ceremonies.
“Whether you struggled, discovered a new appreciation for the possibilities of online learning, added or dropped a class, or surprised yourself by thriving, I know none of this was easy. That is why I’m so grateful that you accepted the challenge with the determination our students are known for.
“It’s important that we recognize the achievements of our graduates and not allow this coronavirus pandemic to stop us from showing our tremendous support and admiration for each of you as you move to the next phase of your lives.”
The 1,701 members of MTSU’s December Class of 2020 were the only graduates with the option to attend their scheduled commencement in person this year. May and August Class of 2020 members graduated in virtual ceremonies after the ongoing pandemic forced MTSU to hold those events online; about 397 of those graduates attended the Nov. 21 evening ceremony held especially for them.
The university revamped its indoor commencement procedures and consulted with experts for weeks to conduct its Nov. 21 open-air ceremonies. It required all in-person participants, and each graduate’s handful of guests, to follow the same strict mask, physical distancing and other protocols used on campus all semester.
And it encouraged graduates and their supporters who preferred to celebrate virtually to watch MTSU’s multiple media outlets available at every commencement, including its regular livestreams at www.mtsu.edu/live, its Facebook page and YouTube channel, and its True Blue TV web and cable channel.
Hundreds of viewers tuned in to the university’s livestreams, produced by MTSU’s student-operated Media Arts Productions and MTSU Production Services staffers, for each ceremony, congratulating the graduates in real time with comments and “likes” to show their support.
At each event, students, seated 6 feet apart and five to a row on the east side of Floyd Stadium, rose at their seats, briefly removed their masks and appeared on the Jumbotron when their names were called.
And despite university Provost Mark Byrnes’ smiling reminders to the crowds on the stadium’s opposite side, curbing their cheers and applause — and air horns — until all the graduates were recognized was nearly impossible.