The coronavirus pandemic did not keep these Hokies from sealing their college education.

On Dec. 18, more than 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students were honored during Virginia Tech’s first virtual fall commencement ceremony.

While standing behind a podium inside Cassell Coliseum, President Tim Sands welcomed online viewers who joined the ceremony from around the state, the nation, and the world. Close to 5,000 viewers tuned into the event in real-time online. Facebook recorded approximately 8,586 views during Dec. 18 - 20. The prerecorded ceremony was available on YouTube and streamed on the Virginia Tech commencement website.

“To our graduates, you’ve proven that you can rise above any challenge, barrier, or limitation,” Sands said. “You’ve demonstrated ingenuity, empathy, and a commitment to the health and well being of our community.”

It was a semester like no other in the history of Virginia Tech and in the world. To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the majority of the university’s courses were held online and there were limitations on campus gatherings and other student activities.

Numerous commencement speakers praised the newest Hokie alumni for making the best of a challenging time.

One in particular, alumna Queen Harrison-Claye, an Olympic hurdler and Pan American Games Champion, told the graduates that she, too, was disappointed that she could not compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed due to the pandemic.

“While I am disappointed with this year's turn of events, the best thing that we can do for ourselves is focus our energies on the things that we can control,” she said. “I'm not saying it's easy. But what I am saying is that positive outlook and focus truly goes a long way.”

Similarly, Linsey Marr, a worldwide expert on the aerosol transmission of viruses, said she was impressed with Hokies who were committed to following public health guidelines when they returned to campus in the fall.

“It was the Hokie spirit in action,” said Marr, who is the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. “By completing your final semester at Virginia Tech under conditions you never could have imagined when you started here, you have proved your mettle.”

Approximately 1,462 undergraduates earned bachelor’s degrees, while 1,223 summer and fall graduate students received advanced, master’s, or doctoral degrees.

During the ceremony’s conferring of degrees, the HokieBird, wearing a white face mask, clapped and waved from different areas of the coliseum. The Marching Virginians wrapped up commencement by playing the “Hokey Pokey.”

Speaking from his home in Alabama, Homer Hickam ‘64, a former NASA engineer and bestselling author of “Rocket Boys” and other books, reminded the graduates that a Virginia Tech education is not an easy feat.

“You have the tools now to go out there and do pretty much whatever you want to do,” he said. “I think that'll probably be something pretty great.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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