May graduates at the University of Tennessee at Martin had no commencement to attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, the university delivered commencement to them Saturday, May 2, through UT Martin’s first-ever virtual commencement streamed on Facebook Live and YouTube.
The ceremony will be archived on YouTube with closed captioning included for later viewing. The live event was produced by the UT Martin Office of Intercollegiate Athletics and Department of Communications in cooperation with other areas of the university.
The event was closed to the public and was led by Chancellor Keith Carver, Provost Philip Acree Cavalier and the university’s academic deans. Campus Minister Amanda Crice, of the UT Martin Wesley Foundation, was also present to deliver the invocation. Participants engaged in social distancing in compliance with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 control guidelines.
The event drew 722 YouTube views, approximately 1,700 live views and 36,000 views on Facebook, and also generated 538 shares. More than 700 students were eligible to receive degrees, and more than 400 submitted photographs that were streamed following the conferral of degrees by Carver.
The 10 a.m. ceremony was held in perfect weather conditions on the quadrangle side of the Hall-Moody Administration building. This marked the first outdoor UT Martin commencement since 1977 spring commencement was held at what is now Hardy M. Graham Stadium. Mace Bearer Doug Cook, retiring Department of Visual and Theatre Arts chair, graduated in the 1977 commencement and closed his UT Martin career by serving in the honorary role during the virtual event.
Among his duties, Carver also delivered a brief commencement address in which he acknowledged the challenging semester that just ended but noted that, “In life, disruption happens.” He recalled how the university and its predecessors struggled during different points in history. “What we’ve learned through all of this is the University of Tennessee (at) Martin is tough, and our people are resilient, and resourceful and creative, and we persevere,” he said.
Carver talked about the pedestrian-friendly reputation of the campus and community and often walks from campus to downtown Martin. One of his favorite downtown locations is Virginia Weldon Park where an Adopt-A-Spot location features plants and flowers cared for by volunteers.
“Graduates, today, I want to commend you to adopt your own spot in this world,” he said, which could be a person, a community cause or a global issue. “There’s all sorts of pain, and suffering and confusion, especially right now, but graduates, I want you to respond to that in your spot with love, attention and care.”
Three other speakers joined the virtual commencement celebration through pre-recorded video segments. University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd expressed personal words of encouragement and congratulations to graduates. “We are literally rewriting history right now as we journey together through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Boyd. “Your flexibility and frankly, your courage, throughout these unprecedented times is inspiring.”
“Regardless of your path forward, you’re now set to achieve even more and are well positioned to use the knowledge you’ve gained while at UT Martin,” Boyd added. “You will soon be working to develop solutions for the world’s most challenging and complex problems. And, you’ll be making a difference in your communities, your state and your world.”
Devin Majors, of Nashville, a two-term Student Government Association president and future University of Tennessee College of Law student, also congratulated the class for completing degrees under challenging circumstances.
“Just like many of your college journeys, this road has been filled with many ups and downs, moments of doubt, and times that you felt that you just couldn’t continue,” said Majors. “And with your strength and your perseverance, you proved to the world – most importantly, you proved to yourself – that you can adapt and overcome.”
Amy West, a 1997 UT Martin graduate and president of UTM’s alumni council, offered final congratulations on behalf of all alumin.
“A university is only as good as its graduates,” said West. “From this point forward your accomplishments, achievements and the way in which you live, will reflect on the educational values of the University of Tennessee at Martin. … On behalf of the UT Martin Alumni Council, congratulations, and I wish you much success in the future.”
The UTM Virtual Choir then performed the Alma Mater, recorded and edited by 2010 graduate Joseph Sam, to close commencement.
Remembered during the event was Kirk Maddox, of Huntingdon, who died April 20 and received his Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance posthumously. Also remembered was Dr. Hyungju Hur, UT Martin assistant professor of history, who died April 26.