​​ASU Spring Grads Excited to March in Fall

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By Hazel Scott/ASU

With strict safety protocols in place, President Quinton T. Ross, Jr. was able to keep his commitment to hold in-person commencement ceremonies to celebrate students who graduated virtually in May due to the pandemic.

On Sunday, Nov. 22, the Spring Class of 2020 and the Golden Class of 1970 returned to campus to have their day to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas during the 301st Commencement Exercise.

“We stated back in the spring that we were committed to welcoming you all back to campus and today is that day. I’m so proud of all our graduates and what they have accomplished. ASU is doubly excited it was able to keep its promise to our Spring graduates and the Golden Class of 1970 to have a safe in-person ceremony to allow them the opportunity to have the recognition and honor that comes with walking across the stage in front of their peers and loved ones. We are proud as ever to honor them now for their achievements,” said President Quinton T. Ross, Jr.

The ceremonies on Sunday were part of a historic decision by the University to spread five commencement ceremonies over three days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 20-22) – for the first time in the ASU Stadium instead of the Dunn-Oliver Acadome.

Each student was allowed five guests to keep the attendance at a manageable level. All guests had to present a valid ticket and have their temperatures checked before they entered the stadium. Masks were mandatory and social distancing was enforced.

Dr. Carl Pettis, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, stated it was important to invite the Spring Class of 2020 and the Golden Class of 1970 back to campus to celebrate their accomplishments and fulfill the University’s promise.

“2020 has been difficult to say the least. Perseverance is a lesson that we all know is integral to success. Nothing could be more important to navigating this year than perseverance and truly being Hornet Strong!” Pettis said. 

Sunday’s Ceremonies Electrifying

Excitement filled the air at Sunday’s Commencement ceremonies. The school’s black and gold was front and center at the morning and afternoon ceremonies. While waiting eagerly for ceremonies to start, graduates took selfies to post on social media, while catching up with friends.

Clad in their regalia, they marched into the stadium amid handclaps and cheers. As they walked across the stage, it was evident the young adults were proud that they were finally celebrating their milestones in an in-person ceremony with family and friends.

The stadium crowd also erupted in applause as the Class of 1970, who made their entrance after the spring class, marched to their seats. 

“We are so excited to be here,” said Golden Class Reunion chairperson, Oris Jean Bryant Jackson, who carried the traditional golden banner to lead her classmates onto the field. “There were so many of us who wanted to be here but couldn’t because of COVID-19. I am proud of those of who could be here. We worked so hard to coordinate our reunion and to raise money for the University and we’re thrilled that Dr. Ross and his team gave us this opportunity.”

The ceremony turned somber as Ross asked for a moment of silence to recognize the fallen Hornets that the University lost this year. A black and gold wreath at the foot of the stage symbolized that loss.

The ceremonies featured much of the traditional “pomp and circumstance” with several traditional aspects of the program pre-recorded and shown on the stadium’s scoreboard screen, including the speech by Commencement speaker, State Sen. Bobby Singleton, a celebrated ASU alumnus.

During his speech, he encouraged the graduates to stay the course.

“The journey may be hard…but don’t you give up. Get up on your feet and brush yourself off and realize that hard times are only going to be for a moment,” Singleton remarked. “Just remember all the things ASU has taught you and you will live your dreams.”

Graduates’ stories

Spring graduates and the Golden Class said dreams of walking across the commencement stage were finally realized on Sunday.

“I’m really ecstatic about having an in-person graduation.  I’ve been looking forward to this day my whole life and my parents too.  I’m very excited,” said David Whitlow, former SGA president.

Whitlow said when he received word that the University had scheduled a fall commencement for its spring graduates, he was in disbelief at first. 

“I didn’t think it would happen. I had hoped it would. When the pandemic started to reach its peak, I didn’t have much hope at all. But ASU found a safe way around Covid-19 to make this happen for our students. It shows the dedication and commitment they have in supporting our students,” Whitlow remarked. “I love ASU.”

The graduating senior said it’s been a tough year to graduate and to enter the workplace. 

“I know for all of us, especially for me, it wasn’t easy; but I know we will be okay in our future endeavors. Alabama State taught us how to survive and weather the storm despite any circumstance or situation,” Whitlow explained.

Whitlow, who received a bachelor’s degree in English, is the first in his family to earn a degree. He is currently in graduate school at Auburn University. 

For Brenda Brown Hunter, President Pro Tempore of ASU’s Board of Trustees, this commencement day was very special to her and her family. 

“Twenty-one years ago, my sister, Terlisa Sheppard, was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were told that she would not live long enough to see her daughter graduate from college.  Well, I’m here to tell you that despite that death sentence and because of her fight and determination and the goodness of God, my sister, who is an ASU alumna, is in the audience today. Twenty-one years to see her daughter, Alyah, graduate with a degree in accounting from our alma mater, The Alabama State Universiy,” said Hunter.

The audience applauded as Hunter asked her sister to stand. Hunter proceeded to acknowledge the tremendous challenges the University had to overcome to make the Spring commencements a realization. 

“This is what commencement is all about. It’s not just the robes, and pomp and circumstance…this is a celebration of the achievements of all of these young people for all the hard work that you put into this. That’s why Dr. Ross would not allow COVID-19 to steal from these graduates what they so richly deserve—their day to celebrate,” Hunter said.  

Parting  Words

The ceremonies ended with Ross giving the graduates parting words of encouragement.

“Class of 2020, you are the class of endurance, you are the class of resilience because you have truly seen it through,” Ross exclaimed.  

Where to Watch

To watch all the commencements, visit facebook.com/asu