Some things were the same; some were different. In May, a joyful community of students, parents, faculty and guests gathered in person to celebrate our graduates — yet, in a new venue that adhered to public health protocols. We cheered as seniors processed with their residential colleges through the Sallyport, but with a twist in the schedule. We welcomed the Class of 2021 — and welcomed back members of the Class of 2020 to experience a graduation in full.
We changed the script to focus on what mattered: the brilliant, smiling faces of our graduates. In one final flourish that channeled perfectly the contradictions of the past year, we got to see our graduates accept their diplomas as never before, via a giant screen, to the delight of fellow seniors, parents and relatives in attendance and families watching online from all over the world. This was not a traditional commencement, nor was it a broken one. It was restorative, hopeful and just about perfect.
Through the Sallyport
Graduates joyfully walked through Lovett Hall’s Sallyport, completing a beloved rite of passage. The Class of 2021 symbolically exited the university with their residential colleges Friday, May 14, while members of the Class of 2020 made their long overdue walk Saturday, May 15.
A New Venue
To accommodate social distancing and allow friends and family to attend the weekend’s events, Rice’s 107th and 108th Commencement ceremonies were held for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 in historic Rice Stadium for the first time in the university’s history. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who was originally scheduled for 2020, gave the commencement speech, imploring grads to “bridge the empathy gap.” President David Leebron congratulated undergraduates for achieving the highest percentage of any group to be vaccinated. To cap off the conclusion of both Friday and Saturday night’s ceremonies, fireworks lit up the sky.
Undergrad and graduate students were all smiles as graduation festivities returned to campus following a year of pandemic protocol and postponed in-person graduation ceremonies. Despite moving the ceremonies to Rice Stadium, the weekend’s events included all the pomp and circumstance to give this year’s commencement its traditional Owl feel.