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ASU fall graduates celebrate commencement at Sun Devil Stadium

President Crow thanks community, students for persevering during pandemic


Two women in graduation gowns throw their arms up and cheer at graduation
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December 13, 2021
Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review.

Thousands of happy graduates and their loved ones filled Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University on Monday afternoon for the first in-person commencement since 2019 — and the first fall-semester graduation ever held at the stadium.

Sun Devils who earned bachelor’s degrees gathered on the field of the stadium, heard the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” and saw their ceremony end with cannons shooting maroon and gold streamers over their heads.

Amid the joy, ASU President Michael Crow asked the crowd to take a moment to reflect on their gratitude and on the painful losses of the pandemic.

“We’ve been wanting to get back here for a long time,” he said. 

“Our faculty and our staff and our teams at the university have found ways for our institution to move forward through the great pandemic. We found ways to accelerate innovation. We found ways to improve our teaching and learning environment.

“I want to say thank you to the students who have persevered and worked their way through this.”

MORE: Meet some of fall 2021's notable grads

He asked everyone to be mindful of the human losses and disruptions of the pandemic.

“People that can’t be with us here today. People who weren’t able to come to college and people whose families were so disrupted they weren’t able to stay in college,” he said.

The 2021 graduates are leaving ASU with the ability to be master learners, Crow said.

“They went to college to have the capacity to learn anything,” he said.

“The thousands of people who are graduating with us today have been empowered to become master learners across all the subjects that exist, all the knowledge that we could bring together and all the means to enhance knowledge that we could bring together.”

ASU President Crow stands at a lectern wearing graduation regalia and points to the audience while grinning

ASU President Michael Crow points to the crowd during his speech at Undergraduate Commencement Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, at Sun Devil Stadium. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Overall, nearly 10,400 ASU students graduated this semester — a 10% increase from fall 2020 — including nearly 5,500 ASU Online students, an 18% increase over last fall.

Of the overall student total, more than 7,000 are undergraduate and about 3,000 are graduate students. Nearly 3,500 students are graduating with honors, a 17% increase over last fall, and about 5,000 of the new fall graduates are from Arizona, a 5% increase. 

Monday’s events also included Graduate Commencement in the morning at Desert Financial Arena.

MORE: See photos from the graduate and undergraduate cermonies

In the spring, commencement was virtual because of the pandemic, although ASU’s colleges held several small, in-person events. All 2020 graduation events were virtual. Students who completed coursework in 2020 or May 2021 were invited to attend Monday’s commencements, and the Golden Graduates, the alumni celebrating the 50th anniversary of their degrees, included the classes of 1970 and 1971.

Renuka Vemuri, undergraduate student president for the Downtown Phoenix campus, addressed her peers, recognizing those who worked or performed community service while earning their degrees, as well as the first-generation college graduates.

“These are just a few of the many ways our students identify themselves,” she said. “As a whole, they represent the purpose of this university — to educate and enrich the lives of students.”

Crow ended his talk by quoting the song “22,000 Days,” written by Graeme Edge, a poet and the drummer for the rock band The Moody Blues, who died last month. The title “22,000 Days” refers to a human life span.

“I want you all to think about what Graeme said about time,” Crow said:

“Even though I know it's only me and my dreams
That drive me, so let me go, please
Let me go onto tomorrow
One day at a time
Now I know the only foe is time.”

The last verse of the song is:

“22,000 days, 22,000 days
It's not a lot, it's all you've got
22,000 days
22,000 nights, 22,000 nights
It's all you know, so start the show
22,000 ways.”

The song played as the jubilant graduates left the field to greet their loved ones and start the next stage of their journeys.

Maroon and gold streamers rain down on a crowd of students in graduation gowns on a football field

At the end of the ceremony, cannons shoot maroon and gold streamers over the newest ASU alumni on the field at Sun Devil Stadium on Monday. It was the first time fall commencement took place at the football stadium. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU News

Top photo: Industrial design graduate Rebecca Leonard (left) and Rachel Lin celebrate during Undergraduate Commencement at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe on Dec. 13. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU News

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