Stanislaus State Honors Class of 2020 in Long-Awaited Commencement Ceremonies

May 21, 2021

Stan State graduates

Stan State Hosts Three Commencement Ceremonies for the Class of 2020 Over Two Days.

The long wait finally ended for Stanislaus State’s Class of 2020 as graduates returned to campus one year later to celebrate the culmination of their hard work during the University’s first in-person Commencement ceremonies since 2019.  

Graduates gathered in the outdoor amphitheater under a bright, blue sky Thursday, May 20, and Friday, May 21, for three of nine planned on-campus Commencement ceremonies honoring Stan State graduates. The University awarded 2,693 degrees to Class of 2020 graduates. 

You have waited a long time for this moment to arrive — a whole year, 365 days, 525,600 minutes,” President Ellen Junn said to Stanislaus State’s 60th graduating class. “Not only did you earn your college degree, you survived and thrived in spite of the many difficulties that unfolded around you over the past year.  

You crossed the finish line during an extraordinary time in history, and as such, you learned lessons about yourself that will remain with you for the rest of your life. Remember the many obstacles you successfully maneuvered during trying times as you turn your focus to a brighter future.” 

The campus hosted three ceremonies for the Class of 2020 over two days. The first two ceremonies were held Thursday with graduates from the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences honored in the morning and those from the College of Education, Kinesiology and Social Work and the College of Business Administration recognized during the afternoon. The final ceremony held the morning of Friday, May 21, honored College of Science graduates.  

This year’s Commencement looked quite different than ceremonies from the past as the University implemented guidance from public health officials in order to host the in-person events during the pandemic. The waning spread of the virus in Stanislaus County over the past several weeks allowed the University to host in-person ceremonies for students and their loved ones.  

But precautions were taken to keep everyone as safe as possible. Graduates did not march into the amphitheater or sit together as a group. Instead, they were seated in the audience in small groups of three that consisted of a graduate and their two pre-registered guests. Each group was spaced according to social-distancing recommendations, and graduate slides with their names announced replaced the tradition of walking the stage. All graduates, guests, and volunteers inside the amphitheater were required to wear face coverings.    

The Commencement platform party — which usually includes a host of guest speakers, the President’s Cabinet, school deans and faculty members — was reduced with only a small number of people on the stage.  

Class of 2020 Commencement

Even with no-contact protocols in place, the mood during the ceremonies was one of celebration. Stories of resilience, perseverance and optimism for a post-pandemic future was a recurring theme during the ceremonies that were delayed after the threat of COVID-19 sent the campus into remote operations in March 2020 and postponed Commencement ceremonies.  

And, despite the changed environment, some Commencement traditions remained firmly in place. Graduates and guests were still regaled by “Pomp and Circumstance” as the ceremony got underway. Graduates arrived in their academic regalia, some with decorated mortarboards that displayed messages, pictures and graphics.  

One change to the traditional ceremony proved particularly poignant. Graduates who earned their master’s or doctoral degrees and are typically hooded by a member of their faculty were instead hooded by one of their invited guests. Some graduates who brought their children as their guests were hooded by their offspring.  

During the ceremony on the morning of Thursday, May 20, Kenni Friedman received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in recognition of a lifetime of community leadership, public service and for her support of education and philanthropy throughout the Central Valley. 

Friedman, who served as a councilwoman for the City of Modesto for a decade, recounted discrimination she faced as a woman during the 1960s. She recalled being told at the time that although she was at the top of her class in college, her male peers needed top grades in order to get jobs to support their families. Some firms would not grant her an interview because of her gender, and when she became a parent, she had to leave her job because parental leave was not available at the time.  

Other speakers included graduates Mi’Shaye Venerable (social sciences), Saeeda Shawasheh (kinesiology) and John Solo (computer science), who greeted their fellow alumni with anecdotes of their college experiences and words of encouragement as they also recounted some of the triumphs and challenges they faced during the past year. 

Following tradition, several student awards were announced during the ceremonies, including Carina Canseco Garcia, John Moffit and Baylee Chance, who tied as the 2020 recipients of Stan State’s Geiger-Metzger Award, presented since 1970 to the graduate with the highest undergraduate grade-point average in courses completed at Stanislaus State. 

Ceremonies celebrating the University’s Class of 2021 graduates will be held May 26-28.