Doctoral faculty host virtual celebration for grads
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University‘s largest class of doctoral graduates couldn’t come together as a group at Commencement this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the College of Doctoral Studies faculty wasn’t going to let that delay the celebration.
Although the in-person hoodings and traditional Commencement ceremonies would have to wait, each of the 183 graduates was recognized Friday morning in a Zoom virtual conferencing gathering that was watched by nearly 400 people.
“Commencement getting canceled, that kind of hurt,” Dean Dr. Michael Berger said. “I’ve volunteered at every Commencement ceremony since I started working here in 2004, and not just for the ones that I have to proceed over as dean. I volunteer for all of them because that’s why we’re here.
“This was going to be the biggest one we’ve ever had. We were going to space it out over two weekends, and then it’s gone. I think that was some motivation in wanting to reclaim something of that. I’m glad we could do something.”
Berger made it clear to the graduates that the virtual celebration was in no way replacing the in-person Commencement, which will be rescheduled when it is safe to hold group gatherings. Rather, it simply was an extension of the celebration to commemorate their achievements close to the time when their original ceremony was scheduled to take place.
Separate slides featured each of the graduates while their names, degrees and dissertation topic were announced. The video segment was suggested by Associate Dean Dr. Ronald Berman since it allowed the audio for the popular commencement song, “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” by Edward Elgar, to play in the background.
“It just seemed like it would be a really great thing to do,” CDS Associate Dean Dr. Cynthia Bainbridge said. “We’re all so good with Zoom and webinars because this is how we live every day in the College of Doctoral Studies, so it just seemed to make sense that we could actually do something live and acknowledge our learners.”
It was just as meaningful to the graduates and their families. The Zoom chat section was filled with “Thank you!” and “Congratulations!” during the event.
“I was really pleased to be a part of it. … It was just well done,” said one of the graduates, Dr. Kathy Wenzlau. “You could see that the leadership wanted to recognize each one of the learners in a special way.”
Wenzlau, who hopes to come to campus for Commencement when it finally takes place, completed her Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership degree with an Emphasis K-12 Leadership in October and was looking forward to participating in April’s commencement ceremony before its postponement. But she was also able to find a silver lining in the college hosting a virtual celebration.
“I’m glad that they did what they did and conducted a virtual graduation so that out-of-state graduates could participate — travel to Arizona for some graduates may not be possible at a later date,” she said. “For them, I’m sure it was very much appreciated.
“I really appreciated the thought put into it and the effort and the special attention we all got.”
Becoming a doctor was always a dream of Dr. Natasha Rachell, so when COVID-19 halted large gatherings, including Spring Commencement, she was heartbroken.
“I commend Grand Canyon University for stepping outside of the box and finding an innovative way to honor us as graduates that have worked hard and joined the 2% of the United States population, earning a doctoral degree,” she said. “The icing on the cake was to do it in a way that allowed our friends and family to witness this accomplishment!”
The CDS faculty didn’t want to miss out on the celebration, either.
“I know for all of us here, we see these doctoral learners’ names for a lot of years in various classes, through their dissertation process … it’s such a special day when we have formal Commencement,” Bainbridge said. “But even here today, virtually, to see their names and dissertations and how impressive those dissertations are … it’s just a really meaningful day for me personally and I know for everyone here because we put a lot of heart and soul into their journey and we want every doctoral learner in this program to succeed and to graduate.”
It’s just part of what sets GCU apart.
“Organizations are judged by not what they say, but what they do. In challenging times, flexibility, creativeness and rapid deployment are those incredibly positive attributes that distinguish GCU faculty and staff,” Berman said. “The doctoral recognition webinar is just yet another example of GCU’s culture.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]