Celebrating graduates: 2020–24 time capsule

Collage of four photos depicting different events

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the summer 2024 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

It has been a wild four years, graduates. From cherished campus memories to pop culture trends, here’s a look back on your ASU journey.


Research rally 

ASU develops a saliva-based COVID-19 PCR test and, in collaboration with the state, rolls it out to the public.

Woman in PPP gear collecting saliva samples
Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

Playing on our phones

• “Blinding Lights”  by The Weeknd.

• “Circles” by  Post Malone.

• “The Box” by Roddy Ricch.

• “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa.

• “Rockstar” by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch.

Hot gaming

Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches on Nintendo Switch, letting players live out their vacation dreams virtually during the pandemic. 

Fast-graduation nation

High schools turn to graduation drive-thrus to comply with pandemic policies. For those of you who are graduating from ASU this May, this may be your first in-person convocation. A well-deserved congratulations to you, grads!

Graduate participating in Zoom event
ASU photo

2020: A grad odyssey

ASU’s spring commencement goes virtual and amasses over 30,000 views.

Netflix’s ‘Gambit’ pays off

The streaming service releases “Tiger King” and “The Queen’s Gambit.” The latter starts a chess craze.

A return to in‑person classes

After virtual lectures and at-home coursework, ASU students celebrate being back in in-person classrooms in the fall.

Students on laptops in classroom wearing masks
 ASU photo


In 2020, the world shut down — you could roam the streets and not hear a peep. Not a mouse nor a sheep, as if Earth were in a monthslong sleep. Now, with forks in the air, to celebrate a new year, we head outside to resume our full lives, socialize with IRL friends and get back to what we like.

What’s Poppin’? Oh, Jack Harlow is headlining?

Rapper Jack Harlow headlines at InfernoFest, kicking off the 2021 school year. 

Sun Devils learn in the City of Angels

The university continues to expand in the Golden State with classes taking place in the ASU California Center in downtown LA. 

Students raise hands in excitement in front of ASU building in California
 Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

TikTok revives ‘Good Soup’

From 2017’s “Girls,” it gets immortalized as a meme on the social network.

Fusion on First opens its doors 

The 16-story, tech-driven project gives students the chance to grow with state-of-the-art creative workspaces while living and collaborating in downtown Phoenix.

Thunderbird lands at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus 

ASU unveils the F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Headquarters during the 75th anniversary of the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Night time photo of downtown Phoenix ASU building
ASU photo

James Webb Telescope heads into the final frontier

NASA, with the help of ASU researchers, launches the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built.

Clean lab building of NASA equipment
NASA photo


Research activity increases 6 times over 20 years

The university ranks in the top 5% of universities with research expenditures.

People conducting research in ASU lab
Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

The new frontier

The U.S. Space Force partners with the university to improve research and workforce opportunities in the stars.

A Sun Devil mind 

Langston Tillman graduates with five bachelor’s degrees in STEM, social sciences and humanities. Yes, five degrees!

King of Rock ’n’ Roll

The “Elvis” movie roars into theaters and gets people talking — and romping to the famous songs that created the genre.

Miss America’s got a pitchfork

Emma Broyles, a Barrett, The Honors College student and ASU junior studying biomedical sciences, is the first Korean American to be crowned Miss America.

Portrait of Miss Arizona
Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

No. 1 in US for global impact

For the U.N. Sustainability Goals, ASU retains No. 1 in the U.S. for the third year in a row, ahead of MIT, New York University, Michigan State University and Penn State University.

Crow: Innovator of innovation

The university celebrates Michael M. Crow’s first 20 years as president. He redefined what it means to be a public-research university and drove ASU to the No. 1 spot in innovation year after year. 

Man speaking at ASU lectern
Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU


Taylor Swift phenomenon 

The self-made billionaire continues to make headlines and set records and even helps the NFL win new fans. This time, for the Eras Tour, she kicks it off at State Farm Auditorium in Glendale.

Mom jeans

Gen Z popularizes high-waisted jeans, oversized blazers and hoodies, and chunky sneakers, in an updated look inspired by the late ’80s or maybe “Stranger Things.”

For Arizonans’ health 

The university announces a medical school will open in downtown Phoenix along with a new school that focuses on public health technology.

Person at doctor's office
Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU

Alumni win golf’s top tournament

Jon Rahm, ’16 BA in communication, wins the Masters, placing him No. 1 in the world. Sun Devil and three-time champion Phil Mickelson, ’92 BA in psychology, ties for second place.

Golfer celebrating win
Photo courtesy Christian Pettersen/Getty Image

Starbucks’ pilot program

With the help of ASU, a location on the Tempe campus implements “Borrow a cup”; 50,000 beverages are served in reusable cups over the seven-month test.

Super Bowl LVII in the Valley

The Pat Tillman Foundation hosts the coin toss for football’s biggest game.

Fashion expansion in Los Angeles

ASU extends the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts into Los Angeles with new fashion programs in ASU FIDM.

ASU FIDM building in LA
Photo by Armand Saavedra/ASU


Chart topper

Beyoncé announces a country album at the Super Bowl and it hits the charts.

‘Dune: Part Two’

The long-awaited sequel hits theaters, debuting as the highest-rated sci-fi film on IMDb. 

Students get a once-in-a-lifetime experience  

The university “hosts” the Final Four in Glendale, involving dozens of ASU community members across professions and majors. The last time ASU hosted was in 2017. 

No. 1 ranking on more than a dozen national and international lists

• No. 1 innovation ahead of MIT and Stanford, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2016–24.

• No. 1 sustainability ahead of Stanford and UC Berkeley in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. 

• No. 1 for the largest pipeline of engineering and tech talent in the U.S., ahead of MIT, Stanford and UCLA, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

Graphic with ASU graduation stats

Story by Damian Goacher, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication; George Headley, a first-year student majoring in journalism and mass communication; and Madison Vega, a graduating senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, with input from communication and digital marketing students in the Cronkite Agency.

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