Greg Hodges

Greg Hodges, vice president for academic and student success services at Patrick Henry Community College.

Graduation at Patrick Henry Community College still will include speakers, and there still will be graduates, but they won’t be on the same stage – or even in the same building.

PHCC announced near the end of April that, despite the coronavirus-halted access to campus and restrictions on public gatherings, graduates would be able to attend their commencement ceremony.

But they would do it from the comfort of their own homes. That’s right, like many schools this year, PHCC decided to go the virtual route for its graduation.

“With the future so uncertain right now and with so many graduates destined to move onto four-year universities, we knew that postponing graduation would be challenging," Amanda Broome, PHCC’s public relations specialist, said. "No one knows when we will be allowed to have mass gatherings again, and who knows how many of our graduates would still be in the area or available to celebrate when large gatherings are possible again?

"Skipping graduation was not an option in our minds. Our graduates have worked so hard and deserve recognition and a chance to be celebrated. We are all heartbroken that graduation cannot take place as it usually does. The virtual option certainly isn’t the same – but we’re doing all we can to let our graduates know how proud we are of all they have accomplished and to give them their graduation moment.”

For some viewers, the seat they had at the ceremony last year won’t change. That’s because for the past several years, PHCC live-streamed graduation so that friends and family members who couldn’t attend in person could watch remotely.

Broome said that this year, though the experience will be noticeably different.

“In years past, we just point the camera, and hit ‘Go Live,’” Broome said. “Now, we are compiling all of our graduates’ information into a multimedia presentation that will be broadcast live during the event. We will have some live speakers, some prerecorded. So, in short, this year will be a little more like a TV production.”

This ceremony on Facebook Live will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, the same date and time as the originally scheduled commencement. To watch, join PHCC’s Facebook page.

PHCC will limit the number of people who will be on stage during its event to ensure that they maintain proper social distancing, and some of the pieces of the ceremony will be assembled ahead of time.

Seraina Dailey, a 2020 PHCC graduate and the ceremony’s speaker, and Barry Helmstutler, the chair of the PHCC Board of Directors, will have recorded their remarks, which will appear during the broadcast.

Real-time presentations will be given by PHCC President Angeline Godwin and Greg Hodges, PHCC’s vice president of academics and student support services. They will take turns standing at the podium on the stage just as they would if the event were happening in person in front of a full audience.

The number of graduates planning to attend the ceremony hasn’t differed much from last year, even though the format will be drastically different. In 2019, 210 graduates participated in the ceremony. This Saturday, 198 committed to the virtual walk.

Last Saturday, nearby Ferrum College staged its graduation virtually. Jamie Campbell, Ferrum’s associate director for external relations, said that there were a few hiccups with audio syncing to the video, but the production team quickly rectified the issue.

The rest of the service – including the conferring of degrees – flowed smoothly. Ferrum had 199 graduates, and 1,996 unique viewers tuned in to watch.

“Overall, we were really pleased with the turnout of our virtual ceremony, and based on the feedback we've received, we think our grads and their families and friends were pleased, also,” Campbell said.

Broome said that in addition to PHCC's graduates, the day also carries significance with college employees who’ve watched students flourish and thrive throughout their educational venture.

“This is an important day in the lives of all our PHCC faculty and staff as well, because we have invested years in these students’ lives, and we are so proud of each one of them," she said. "We have witnessed them grow and learn. We have seen unsure students blossom into young men and women made confident by their own success and perseverance.

"It is an important day for all of us because we get to see all the long hours and taxing work pay off. We invest so much into our students – like a gardener carefully tending his plants – how rewarding it is to see the fruit.

“Of course, we are glad that we have the option of virtual graduation, but it does not hold a candle to the high fives, hugs and the cheering of an in-person ceremony. We are so proud of our graduates and we are heartbroken that we cannot tell them so in person.

Even though graduates won’t be surrounded by their peers and teachers at their commencement ceremony, it is still a significant day in their educational journey.

“For so many of our students, graduation is an important day because it is a chance to celebrate a job well done," Broome said, "and a chance to revel in the realization that they are now college graduates. Going to college is not easy. Passing class after class and continuing an education through everything that life may try to throw at you is never easy. What they have accomplished is proof they can do what they set their minds to. It is proof that they have the mettle to accomplish their goals,” Broome said. “Now, it’s time to reflect on this reality – the reality that they believed they could and they did. This realization – that they have what it takes – is often the inspiration that students need in order to keep pressing on to new challenges in their careers or their educational journeys. It is so important to celebrate success because in any aspect of life, it can be the inspiration we need to keep going.

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