Case Western Reserve 2020 alumna Grace Moran holds her graduation cap in her hand
Grace Moran

Celebrating from afar

2020’s virtual commencement looked like no other before—but the festivities continued

This article first appeared in a summer publication related to the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More articles will appear in The Daily and on the university and school social media accounts in upcoming weeks; visit to see more.

2020 Case Western Reserve alumna Grace Moran holding a graduation cap at her home in Chicago
Grace Moran

Grace Moran walked across the stage to accept her diploma—at her home outside Chicago. 

On the day of Case Western Reserve’s commencement May 17, Moran’s family decked out their garage to mark the occasion, complete with a lectern in the university’s colors that her father made in his sheet metal shop. Moran’s dad gave a “keynote” speech highlighting her college experience, before she took the stage to deliver her own address. And as her family presented her with a mock diploma folder commemorating her bachelor’s degrees in cognitive science and dance, other relatives tuned in via Zoom.

Thousands of Case Western Reserve’s newest alumni celebrated commencement around the world that day, beginning with a virtual take on the traditional ceremonies: pre-recorded speeches from President Barbara R. Snyder and commencement speaker William “Bill” Baker, PhD (ADL ’66; GRS ’68, ’72, communications sciences), as well as typical commemorations, including honorary degrees and faculty honors. Then, each school held individual diploma ceremonies, during which slides personalized by graduates appeared on screen.

Though she missed hearing her classmates’ names read aloud and seeing them walk across the stage, Liz Hanna, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies and Middle Eastern studies, said the situation ultimately allowed for a more relaxed day with her parents and siblings, who surprised her with decorations and brunch at home.  

Shahin Pahlevani, who graduated from the School of Dental Medicine, had never participated in a commencement ceremony and looked forward to the closure the day’s pomp and circumstance would bring. But instead of donning a traditional graduation gown, Pahlevani and his wife, Sara, wore pajamas as they watched the ceremonies. 

Still, they celebrated with cake, flowers and messages of support from friends and family. “Everything together made that day truly special for me, and I realized I have a much larger support group than I previously imagined,” Pahlevani noted. “That’s a blessing that I owe to this situation.”

The day’s ceremonies marked a finality that many felt was missing because of the abrupt end of on-campus learning in March.

“A lot was left unfinished when we had to leave campus—a lot of goodbyes and thank yous left unsaid, projects I was never able to complete,” Moran said. “Having such a memorable and special commencement celebration helps me feel a sense of closure as I transition into the next chapter of my life.” —Katie Laux