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Blue and red graphic that reads Welcome Home, Class of 2020!

University of Dayton to celebrate 2020 graduates with special weekend 

It’s been a long wait for the University of Dayton class of 2020, which had its on-campus commencement ceremony canceled two years ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s finally their turn.

This weekend, 421 graduates from 2020 and 805 family and friends will return to campus to reconnect with faculty, celebrate their accomplishments and top off their UD campus experience. 

The University will celebrate its 2020 graduates noon Saturday, May 14, at the Marycrest Amphitheater located at the east end of the Central Mall opposite Kennedy Union. The celebration is part of a weekend of events, which will include a welcome reception Friday, May 13, in the Connor Flight Deck at UD Arena, a dean’s open house before the ceremony Saturday morning and a porch party later that afternoon.

“I was always excited about the idea of a graduation ceremony,” said Chloe Voelker, a double major in management information systems and entrepreneurship who now works for tech company VNDLY in Cincinnati. “Having the ceremony not only means a lot for me and my peers, but for my parents who sacrificed so much to have me attend UD. I’m thrilled to see this come to fruition.” 

Although UD hosted a virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, the University promised to also hold a formal, on-campus commencement for 2020 graduates when public health restrictions were lifted. With logistical considerations and last year's public health restrictions, UD could only hold separate undergraduate ceremonies with limited seating for the class of 2021. It still wasn’t safe enough to invite the class of 2020 to return for a full-group experience. 

But UD never gave up the idea of celebrating the Class of 2020 in person.

“I’ve been waiting to say ‘welcome home’ to the class of 2020 for two years,” said UD President Eric F. Spina. “This day is more than just a long-awaited, in-person ceremony on a spring day in the heart of campus — it’s a joyful reunion of classmates. It’s an opportunity to thank a favorite professor and a moment for graduates to step back and savor all they’ve accomplished in the last two years. It’s a day we’ve all dreamed of, worried whether it would ever happen, and now will never forget.”

December Lee, a medicinal chemistry graduate, will be driving from Columbus to participate. She said she’s excited to reunite with friends and is thrilled her class is getting its long-awaited public recognition of a job well done.

“We didn’t get to say goodbye to each other,” said Lee, who’s now in a pharmacy graduate program at The Ohio State University. “We left for spring break and thought we’d be back in three weeks, so it took a while to get over the fact that we weren’t going to have a graduation ceremony. We didn’t get some of the things we should have gotten, and UD recognized that. There’s no way I would miss this.” 

In March 2020, students were days from leaving for spring break when the University announced the suspension of in-person instruction following guidance from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The initial announcement, dated March 10, 2020, expected that students would remain off campus for at least two weeks following spring break and continue their classes virtually. 

“At the time, most of us thought that would be temporary because school was closed for two weeks,” said Sean Newhouse, a political science and communication graduate. “My bold opinion at the time was, ‘I think it's going to be three weeks.’ That turned out to not be true – it wasn’t inaccurate but it was a little longer than three weeks. Much longer.”

The 2020 graduates never got the chance to return, save for a window during the summer when they were allowed to come back to move their belongings out of student housing. 

Now a Congressional committees reporter for CQ Roll Call in Washington, D.C., Newhouse said he’s ready to get back to Dayton.

“It’s kind of unique because in an alternate universe graduation, that probably would have been the last time that I would have seen everyone, but now I’ll see them two years later and see if we've changed or if we're all the same,” Newhouse said. “I view it as a celebration. A time to reflect about our time in college, the time since leaving college and how events affected all of that. I think it has definitely made me appreciate big moments like graduations more.”

The University’s Division of Advancement reached out to student leaders like Voelker, Lee, Newhouse and others shortly after the 2020 academic year ended to ask if they wanted to join a committee to help plan a celebration in the future. They were asked to envision what “coming back” would look like – would it be a graduation ceremony? Maybe a reunion? 

“This is a little of both,” said Ummiya Chaudhary, a civil engineering graduate who’s now an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “Just having a celebration at all is important – it  means something. It provides closure.”

Like many of the 2020 graduates, Chaudhary is excited about seeing old friends, but also former professors, helpful staff members she encountered regularly and even acquaintances who became part of the fabric of her college experience. Multiple students said they look forward to thanking them all for their support and assistance in making their UD journey special.

Even though Morgan Eifert visits the UD campus regularly to visit her sister, a senior, and her brother, a junior, coming back this weekend will be special. 

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Eifert, an accounting and finance graduate who works in audit for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Cincinnati. “All of my friends, past roommates – we’re all looking forward to staying together at the Marriott, seeing each other again, and going back to do all of the things we didn’t get to do together in those last few weeks.”

Gabriella Rice, who majored in international business and minored in Chinese and Asian studies, hated leaving behind the many organizations she was involved in as a UD student, notably the Asian American Association she helped start on campus. Now executive assistant in the office of the CEO at Tectronic Industries in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Rice is eager to return for the event.

“I’m so excited to go back,” Rice said. “We know it’s not the same as a graduation ceremony in the traditional sense, but I’m looking forward to walking across the stage, seeing my old friends and shaking President Spina’s hand. It might be just a handshake, but it means so much more.”


News and Communications Staff