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Corey Lightner had considered not making a big deal about graduation. Like other Virginia Commonwealth University students who graduated during the pandemic, Lightner had participated in a virtual graduation ceremony since there was no formal, in-person commencement.

Lightner completed his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the Richard T.  Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences in August 2020. After graduating, he moved to Atlanta where he works at a camera company. This fall, VCU sent out an email inviting the virtual graduates — those from May 2020, December 2020 and May 2021 — back to campus to attend an in-person ceremony.

He read the email and considered not participating. Lightner had already moved away from Richmond and thought that maybe the time for celebration had come and gone. Then he learned other friends from VCU would be attending, and his family pressed him about observing the milestone, as he is a first-generation college graduate.

“I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it,” Lightner said. “I felt like the time had passed. Instead, my parents and other family members had other plans. They wanted to make a big deal out of it. So, we are going to have a nice gathering.”

Commencement is set to take place Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Siegel Center. The university estimates that around 1,000 graduates, roughly 300 of them from previous classes, will participate in the main universitywide ceremony. (Note: The deadline for graduates to RSVP is Dec. 6.) VCU has not put a cap on the number of friends and family who can attend.

Jordan Holmes, who graduated in May of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the School of Business, is looking forward to the ceremony. She left campus abruptly when the pandemic hit in March of 2020 and was not able to say goodbye to friends and faculty members. She is glad that VCU is willing to invite the virtual graduates back to campus for an in-person event.

“I decided to come back even though it has been almost two years,” Holmes said. “I still want to have that experience of [being at the ceremony in-person]. I also wanted to have that experience to share with my family. They should be able to see me graduate in person.”

Holmes works at the watch company Talley and Twine as a marketing coordinator and lives close enough to Richmond that it will not be difficult to attend the ceremony. She expects family and friends to travel from Portsmouth, Virginia, to watch her graduate.

Holmes had a small celebration with family when she graduated virtually, but the in-person ceremony will mean a lot. She expects several of her VCU friends will also attend the event.

“I’m excited to finally be able to [attend in-person] and see some of my friends, like my old roommate,” Holmes said. “She is going to be graduating as well.”

Distance is also not an issue for Anjewel Bland, who earned her bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in May 2020 and is continuing her education at VCU by working on a master’s degree on the same subject. She still lives in the area, so attending the ceremony will not be challenging. She said that is not the case for some of her friends who moved away for career opportunities after graduation.

She expects around 10 members of her family will attend the ceremony. Her family wants to celebrate her accomplishments.

“My family is very, very proud of what I have accomplished,” Bland said. “They are very excited to be coming back for the ceremony.” 

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., is looking forward to welcoming the multiple graduation classes. He knows the last couple of years have been difficult.

“Our ‘virtual’ graduates have demonstrated incredible resilience, tenacity and success in the midst of significant challenges,” Rao said. “They have helped us to be an even better university. So we are very pleased to be able to recognize and thank them in-person for their advocacy, courage and accomplishments that represent the best of VCU.”



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