Students game for ‘Animal Crossing’ Commencement

May 01, 2020 / by / 0 Comment

Cameron Sullivan, who graduated recently with his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, was among several GCU students who participated in a virtual Commencement ceremony in the popular video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Crossing the stage took on a whole new meaning for Grand Canyon University Computer Science major Cameron Sullivan and four other recent GCU graduates, a current GCU student and a friend from Arizona State University. They celebrated their big accomplishment with a virtual Commencement ceremony on popular video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

GCU junior Adam Brink, a friend of Sullivan’s, came up with the idea soon after the game’s release, when he discovered the cap-and-gown costume in the game.

“He was, like, ‘Hey! I’m going to set aside sets of those, so if we ever want to do a graduation thing in ‘Animal Crossing,’ we can,” Sullivan said of the game, in which players create avatars who buy and design islands with the hope of attaining a five-star rating.

Brink, who set up most of the virtual ceremony, never would have imagined that COVID-19 would preempt large gatherings, such as Commencement ceremonies, including at GCU, and that those virtual caps and gowns would, indeed, come in handy.

Sullivan and fellow 2020 GCU grads Sebastian Flores, Trent Graumann, Mark Franklin and Xean Tapangan, along with Brink, are all from the GCU Esports community and participated in weekly Super Smash Bros. tournaments on campus. They connected via digital distribution platform Discord, used mainly by gamers, so that they could call each other.

โ€œWe chose to have a graduation in ‘Animal Crossing’ for a few reasons. One was that it was a virtual environment were we could actually be together again,” said Brink. “The second reason was that this game was a distraction from whatโ€™s going on in the world, and I know it has helped many of my friends get though these times a little easier. … It also gave a lot of us an actual chance to say congratulations and goodbye, as we all had to go home so suddenly. This is definitely a graduation I wonโ€™t forget, and it certainly will be a memory we all share together. I hope to see them all again.โ€

Sullivan linked the stream of the ceremony to Facebook so his family could watch, including family in Minnesota.

His mom, Cindy, who lives in Cave Creek, said her sister-in-law was able to access the virtual ceremony and share it with Sullivan’s grandfather, who has Parkinson disease.

“She was so excited and so happy she could share that moment,” Cindy said. “She thought it was such a blessing to hear him and his friends lift each other up. You can hear Cameron tell his friends, ‘I’ve come a long way.’ It’s just been, really, a rewarding experience for him.”

The “Animal Crossing” Commencement seemed apropos for Sullivan, whose emphasis was in game design and simulation and would love to go into game development as a career.

Something that might help boost that desire, beyond the “Animal Crossing” Commencement, is that Sullivan was part of a project that recently placed first in the Honors College Showcase. The project featured what was to be a fully autonomous inventory robot, though the robot couldn’t be completed exactly how the team envisioned because of the semester’s abrupt end.

Although Sullivan wasn’t part of the Honors College contingent on the team, working on the robot portion of the entry was part of his senior capstone project.

Friday would have wrapped up the three days of graduation ceremonies over two weeks originally planned for Grand Canyon University‘s traditional on-ground students and nontraditional online students. But with students sheltering at home, they celebrated in inventive ways, beyond “Animal Crossing.”

The social media team posted a video compilation of how GCU’s students celebrated from their homes.

GCU Today found a few other posts, including graduation drive-by processionals and also a quick zip through the snow via snowboard — with cap and gown, of course:

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Posted by Rick Strasser on Friday, April 24, 2020

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Posted by Jonah Starr on Monday, April 27, 2020

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Posted by Tiffanie Duncan on Friday, April 24, 2020

Thank you to my sister Elyssa, my mom Yesenia, & my dad Arturo for my graduation day surprise. Although this wasnโ€™t…

Posted by Maritza Martinez on Friday, April 24, 2020


โœจ3 years in the makingโœจOfficially Ashley Kirkpatrick, BSNโ€ขGrateful for each of those years and everything that went…

Posted by Ashley Kirkpatrick on Friday, April 24, 2020


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