When the COVID-19 pandemic forced college seniors across the globe to finish their final semester online, it dramatically altered one of the most significant events of their lives: their college graduation ceremonies. This August, The University of Texas at Dallas held ten commencement ceremonies and a doctoral hooding ceremony on campus Aug. 9-12 to recognize the accomplishments of graduates whose in-person commemorations were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduation ceremonies, which celebrate all the hard work students have put forth during their time at UT Dallas, are also the time when a Comet becomes a proud UT Dallas alumnus. Many students and their families were grateful to have finally been able to complete their graduation walk.
The University recognized 4,689 graduates who completed bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in 2020 and spring 2021 — all of whom were honored previously in virtual events — by inviting them to take their well-earned walks across the stage. From 2020 to 2021, approximately 1,220 students within the overall university population graduated with a computer science degree from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Added to these students, new doctorate recipients from the summer 2021 semester attended a hooding ceremony and joined those who missed out on in-person recognitions in the past year. To help reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19 during the commencement ceremonies, the University strongly encouraged attendees to be vaccinated, wear masks, and follow the guidelines listed on the Comets United website.
“Being able to have an in-person hooding is something special,” said Dr. Juan González, dean of graduate education and the Francis S. Johnson Chair for Graduate Education. “After working remotely for the last year and a half, dealing with online defense sessions, and just putting in a lot of effort for five to seven years, it is a big deal for these students to receive their doctoral hoods in person from their mentors.”
During the Jonsson School’s 2021 Commencement Ceremony, CS 2021 Graduate David M. Brooks spoke to a roomful of graduates and their families, saying, “We all didn’t start off the same. Many of us come from different high schools, different countries, different majors, or are of different ages. Some of us knew from early on our major is what we wanted to do. For others, this is the last thing we expected to happen.” He continued saying, “But we’re all here now, at the same starting line. Yeah, I thought it was finished after that last sprint, but it’s apparently just the beginning. We worked hard to get to this point, but I know many of us aren’t thinking about that right now. Instead, the long road is ahead of us. Hopefully, after our time here, it’s pretty clear that we don’t know where that road is going to take us or what’s going to happen along the way, and that life isn’t linear: high school, college, job, retirement in Florida.”
Graduation Celebrations went on throughout the week. After each commencement, family, friends, and graduates were invited for refreshments, photo opportunities, and giveaways at Memories on the Mall. The outdoor tradition honors the University’s newest alumni and gives graduates the chance to reflect on their experiences at UT Dallas.
In addition, at the end of each commencement day, the graduates, along with their friends and families, were able to celebrate their achievements by participating in the University’s con-GRAD-ulations celebration outside the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center.
“The University was challenged to adapt over the last year, and the traditional activities that surround the culmination of the academic year were postponed,” said Dr. Inga Musselman, vice president for academic affairs, provost, and the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair of Academic Leadership. “Similarly, in our personal lives, we faced delays in such rites of passage as starting careers or holding weddings. I have been so eagerly awaiting this day when we would be together again.”
Dr. Richard C. Benson, president of the University and the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership, said: “Your achievements during these extraordinary times deserve our admiration. The benefits of your knowledge and expertise are greatly needed now.”
“We are very proud of our CS graduates, BS, MS, and PhD students now becoming UTD alumni and starting a new chapter in their lives. We know they are very well prepared to succeed professionally in their new or continuing jobs and look forward to stay engaged with them in the future,” said Dr. Ovidiu Daescu, Interim Department Head of Computer Science.
Livestreams of the ceremonies are available on the UT Dallas website.
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students, 52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2021. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.