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The Class of 2020 Gets Its Moment

A long-delayed commencement ceremony will allow students to celebrate accomplishments and reconnect with classmates

The members of Duke’s class of 2020 will get their moment in the spotlight Sunday with a commencement ceremony delayed by the pandemic.

The young alumni whose celebration last year was postponed will meet on Abele Quad on West Campus at 9 a.m. Sunday. Some 1,750 students and more than 5,000 of their friends and family members are expected to attend. Undergraduate and graduate and professional students who graduated in September 2019, December 2019 and May 2020 from all 10 Duke schools are invited.

All attendees are expected to be vaccinated and masks are mandatory inside all Duke buildings and on shuttle buses as well as at the ceremony.

The ceremony will be streamed live on Duke’s YouTube channel. Twitter users can follow with the hashtag #Duke2020.

After nearly 20 months of the pandemic disrupting their lives, the students of the Class of 2020 say this event is important to them and will allow them to have the meaningful closure to their undergraduate experience that they couldn’t get in 2020.

“This is our chance for bonding and reconnecting,” said Sabrina Maciariello, who will deliver the student commencement address at the ceremony. “This is our time to honor our collective struggle, and experience warmth in the company of those who have supported us along that journey.”

Duke officials said they are pleased that so many students are returning to campus. Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon said the event was “a chance for these students and their loved ones to have the in-person celebration and recognition of an extraordinary life milestone after years of hard work.

“While we all experienced an abrupt interruption of our routines and year in March 2020, the pandemic's suspension was particularly impactful to those seniors. This weekend is a chance to reclaim the milestone experience of completing one's Duke degree and coming together as a class to celebrate and reflect on all that happened in those four years-- and in the 15 months since.”

“Commencement doesn't just signify degree completion; the ceremony binds us to the institution and the legions of alumni who preceded us,” said Gary Bennett, Duke’s vice provost for undergraduate education. “If anyone deserves to participate in this tradition, it's the Class of 2020 whose lives, studies, and Duke experiences were so profoundly interrupted. I am eager to welcome them back home for this weekend's events.”

Actor-comedian Ken Jeong will give the commencement address. Jeong earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke in 1990 and is widely known for his work on the “Community” television show and “The Hangover” movie series.

Jeong is one of four distinguished individuals who will receive honorary degrees during the ceremony. He joins Mary Schmidt Campbell, a distinguished leader in higher education; and Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, two scientists whose discoveries laid the foundation for the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

President Vincent Price will also confer the University Medals – the university’s highest honor – on three people during the ceremony. The recipients include two former chairs of the Duke Board of Trustees: former General Motors president and CEO Rick Wagoner and Pete Nicholas, chairman emeritus of the board of Boston Scientific Corporation. In addition, the medal will be presented posthumously to MaryAnn Black, former associate vice president for community relations for the Duke University Health System.

The Sunday ceremony will cap a full weekend of events for 2020 graduates and their families that also include a Duke Chapel climb and the Duke/Kansas football game on Saturday. The public is also invited to the Friday renaming of the sociology/psychology building on West Campus for Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke ’67, one of the “First Five” Black undergraduates at Duke. She went on to an extraordinary career in law, academics and civic engagement.

 A full schedule of events is available here.

Visitor parking will be available at the Science Drive Garage, Bryan Center Parking Garage and the Blue Zone lots, and shuttles will be available from the Science Drive Garage. More information on parking and transportation is available here.