Augusta University holds virtual commencement

Outing AU Provost Gretchen Caughman performs the master of ceremonies role for the last time.

Brett Swain |
Staff writer

Augusta University held its spring 2020 graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 30, after the live ceremony at James Brown Arena scheduled for May 8 had to be postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Graduates of Spring 2020 watched a virtual commencement with their families and friends to celebrate their accomplishments. Doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees were conferred. The university reported 1,250 spring graduates, who sent in photographs of themselves, and those were shown during the ceremony.

AU President Brooks Keel gave the commencement address, and Jenelle Marie Smeragliuolo gave the student speech. Both were in the Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre, along with Provost Gretchen Caughman, who as usual was the master of ceremonies.

However, this was the last commencement for Caughman, who is retiring in August. She said the virtual approach made this a special graduation.

“I’ve been part of a lot of commencement ceremonies, but the most memorable one has to be this virtual commencement,” she said. “It’s not one we’d ever have imagined doing, but one so many people worked countless hours to try to make special for our Class of 2020 graduates. Beyond that, every commencement has been special for me; they never, never get old.”

The AU provost has enjoyed the celebration of students over the years.

“What I will miss most about commencements—the traditional, in person ceremonies—is the energy and exuberance of the graduates and their loved ones,” she said. “I love being in the James Brown Arena with all those excited, happy people, who all have so much to celebrate. I love the pomp and circumstance, and I love hearing the name called of every single graduate there.”

Caughman said each graduation is different from the other, even if the basic plot is always the same.

“Even though the commencement ceremony is carefully scripted and the basic elements don’t change that much, I always review my parts carefully and tweak the words at least a bit, so that it stays fresh to me, because each ceremony is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event for the graduates, and I want to make sure it comes across that way for me, too,” she said. “It’s never routine, never just part of the job—I truly love it. And I always print out two copies of the script for myself, and don’t let them out of my sight until the ceremony is completed.”

Caughman was scheduled to retire on June 30 but is staying until Fall 2020 semester gets going in full swing due to all of the changes required by the pandemic. She has a few words of wisdom for the graduating class.

“What advice I’d give the Class of 2020 graduates who wanted to walk across the stage is a tough one, because I understand what a disappointment it has been for them and their families,” she said. “First, I would remind and encourage them to consider returning in December to participate in what we certainly hope will be the in-person commencement ceremony then. We always have a smaller number of students graduating in December, so there will be plenty of room to celebrate all the 2020 graduates in that ceremony. Beyond that, I would remind them that they’ve already proved they are adaptable and resilient in ways none of us could have imagined previously. While this and other disappointments are sure to come their way in life, based on their experiences of the past few months, they should be confident they can face anything and succeed.”

Here is the program for the Spring 2020 Commencement: Augusta University 2020 Spring Graduation program.


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