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Honors students ring in the future at West campus

A socially distanced gathering marked the end of their academic careers, the beginning of a return to normalcy


ASU West faculty members in commencement regalia and masks pose next to a flower arrangement that spells out 'ASU' on Fletcher Lawn

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May 06, 2021

On a recent Friday afternoon in Glendale, Arizona, the quiet stillness that has defined many a college campus this past year was suddenly and joyously pierced by the peal of the Bool Bell, traditionally rung in triumph by students of ASU’s West campus after having completed the last final of their academic career.

“I feel like it’s my wedding day!” shouted one student. “This is way better than your wedding day,” came the reply from another.

Slowly, more students began to join them, arriving in small, staggered waves for a socially distanced but still jubilant Barrett, The Honors College graduation celebration, one of several scaled-down, in-person celebrations held across all four ASU campuses this spring. While the universitywide commencement event remained virtual this year, the handful of in-person events gave many a welcome taste of normalcy.

“It's just a different feeling. I feel like I can feel everyone’s energy right now, and the happiness in the air, which I wouldn't be able to feel online,” said communication graduate Shiwani Sandhu. “Even just little things like seeing the twinkle in people’s eyes when they smile. I love those things! And it means a lot to us graduating that we get to see the faculty here on campus one last time.”

As students in maroon caps and gowns (and face coverings) arrived at West campus that afternoon, they were greeted by faculty in full commencement regalia (and face coverings). Their first stop was the Paley Gates to honor another West campus tradition: Having first passed through them as freshmen, the students now walked through the gates for the last time, complete with a photo op to mark the moment.

Diane Gruber, a principal lecturer in Barrett, The Honors College at West campus, was one of those faculty members waiting to congratulate students on the other side of the gates that day. For her, one of the biggest challenges of teaching during the pandemic was trying to read which of her students were in distress and which were doing OK.

”It was really difficult to do that through Zoom,” Gruber said. But seeing them step into their future now made up for it. “It's wonderful. It's terrible that we can't hug them! But at least we can see them in three dimensions.”

A constant hum of chatter and laughter filled the courtyards at West campus as students moved from the Paley Gates to the Bool Bell to Fletcher Lawn, where a giant flower arrangement spelling out ASU made for another perfect photo op and a smattering of well-distanced tables provided an area to safely enjoy prepackaged meals and one another’s company.

For Kaley Zepeda, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication, this day was hard-won. After struggling with homesickness during her freshman and sophomore years, she finally began to feel more at home after becoming a peer leader and finding a sense of community at ASU West’s Communications Lab. Then came COVID-19, and everything — including the lab — went virtual.

“I was a little bit fearful of what it was going to be like, having to reconfigure my peer leader role into a virtual setting,” Zepeda said. “But the CommLab did a wonderful job making it feel just like it did in person.”

A ring of maroon and white beads bearing the ASU logo adorned Zepeda’s wrist that afternoon. It was given to her by an ASU staff member when she was a freshman and still struggling to find her place at the university. They told her to hang onto it so that one day, she could wear it during graduation.

“Every year, I hung it up in my dorm room,” Zepeda said. “I’ve been waiting to wear it for four years, and I’m wearing it today, and I’ll be wearing it Monday when I watch the virtual graduation ceremony with my family.”

More campus celebrations

Top photo: Barrett, The Honors College faculty pose for a photo during an in-person graudation celebration for honors students at ASU's West campus on Friday, April 30. Photo by Jenny Dupuis/ASU

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