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Thunderbird grads honored with holographic speakers, outdoor celebration with video wall

May 7, 2021

Class of 2021 celebrates in person and virtually using the latest technology

To honor its Class of 2021, the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University staged a truly unique college graduation.

With students spread out all over the world during this academic year of remote and hybrid learning, Thunderbird hosted several safe outdoor hybrid celebrations (in-person plus remote) featuring an interactive Zoom video wall. The school also held a high-tech convocation ceremony featuring commencement speakers who appear as holograms (see video’s 8:40 mark). Graduates rolled across the stage as telepresence avatar robots, with the dean officiating in person, all appearing together in a digital rendering of the school’s new global headquarters, which is still under construction and will open this fall with the latest telepresence technology. 

Video by Thunderbird School of Global Management

Thunderbird's virtual video-streamed convocation ceremony went live on Monday, May 3. The graduation team used cutting-edge technology to recreate the school's traditional ceremony without losing any of its key elements. The holographic commencement speaker was T-bird for life Joaquin Duato, vice-chair of Johnson & Johnson (8:43). Outstanding graduates also gave their traditional speeches as holographic projections.

Director General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram officiated the ceremony in a chroma key studio surrounded by only lights and cameras. The digital ceremony included degree conferrals, academic awards via telepresence avatar robot (14:25) and school traditions, such as the Parade of Flags from around the world and the Thunderbird Oath of Honor. 

Graduates and their families are scattered around the world more than ever this year, yet they could watch the video stream together when the ceremony premiered or on-demand anytime afterward at their convenience.

Thunderbird also hosted four outdoor, in-person celebrations on May 4 at the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix for graduates only. Thunderbird’s hybrid in-person events safely honored groups of 2021 graduates in a bright, open-air setting and provided a Zoom livestream and 10-ft tall Zoom video wall to allow remote graduates, family and friends to join virtually with live audio and video.  

Each celebration had a maximum of 40 students attend in person (50 people total, including a photographer, the dean and several faculty and staff). Graduates who attended in person were able to take photos with their classmates and the dean, and collect their diploma cover. A drone photographer was also on hand to capture aerial images of the graduates together in person.

“We are honored to celebrate our Class of 2021 graduates’ academic accomplishments both in person and virtually,” Khagram said. “They came to Thunderbird and ASU for the transformative learning and the university experience and stayed the course to earn their degrees and graduate as professionals, no matter what obstacles they encountered. In a historically challenging time, the Class of 2021 adapted and grew with perseverance and personality. We are so proud of them and look forward to welcoming all our new alumni and their families back for a special in-person graduation celebration in the state-of-the-art Thunderbird Global Headquarters when it opens this fall as part of the school’s 75th-anniversary celebrations.”

Top image: An outstanding graduate, Anna Paula Pizzorno, gave a speech as a holographic projection after being introduced by Dean Sanjeev Khagram.

Jonathan Ward

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Messaging , Thunderbird School of Global Management


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ASU graduates celebrate at Downtown Phoenix campus

May 6, 2021

Colleges and schools held small, in-person gatherings to honor their grads

After more than a year of working remotely, students in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University were finally able to see some of their fellow graduates and faculty members on Wednesday, May 5.

About 300 graduates attended the college’s walk-through celebration, which ran all day on the Downtown Phoenix campus. About a dozen professors cheered and waved noisemakers as each graduate received a diploma, walked across the stage and had their photo taken before heading down a red carpet to a balloon-filled courtyard for cookies.

Thomacita Begay, who earned a degree in exercise and wellness, was grateful.

“I’m just very thankful we got this opportunity to get some kind of experience and to be able to walk,” said Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation who will return to ASU for a master’s degree in exercise and wellness.

“I want to work with our native youth and work for our Native American community, so I can give back to my family.”

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Begay, who earned an associate degree from Mesa Community College, transferred to ASU just before the pandemic forced classes to be taught remotely.

“I think the best part of being at ASU was being able to meet my professors and even though we weren’t able to see each other in person, I still got to connect with them virtually and I still got to learn as much as I could from them.”

The college also held two small in-person events on Tuesday, May 4 — a hooding ceremony for doctoral students and a celebration for doctor of audiology graduates, who receive a white coat.

Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions, told the audiology graduates that the college’s charter gives them direction and focus.

“It says that we bring people together to improve the health of the communities we serve, reaching them where they live, work, learn and play throughout the lifespan,” she said.

On Wednesday, Helitzer told ASU News that the pandemic health crisis has highlighted that mission for the students and faculty.

“The College of Health Solutions is all about the impact we can make for communities to improve their health. We definitely galvanized,” she said.

“A lot of our students volunteered with the vaccination effort. Hundreds of people tuned into our virtual talks. It’s really about having people on the outside see us as a resource.”

Randy Bravo attended Wednesday’s celebration to receive his master’s degree in the science of health care delivery. A year ago, he received his bachelor’s degree, when all of ASU’s graduation events were virtual.

“I’m really grateful they were able to give us the chance to walk across the stage this year,” said Bravo, who hopes to work in public health for a year before applying to medical school.

He said his favorite part of his time at ASU was forging connections with people.

“Meeting so many people from all walks of life and different backgrounds was the best thing about being at ASU.”

More Downtown Phoenix campus celebrations

Thunderbird School of Global Management

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

More campus celebrations

Top photo: Thomacita Begay celebrates her graduation from the College of Health Solutions at an event on the Downtown Phoenix campus on May 5. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News