Commencement poster, pamphlet and tassel sent to UMBC 2020 graduate

After a year of tremendous change and challenges, UMBC was thrilled to come together virtually to celebrate the winter graduates of the Class of 2020. Although the pandemic prevented us from gathering together in the Event Center, our campus community still turned out to share congratulations and support for our Retrievers. 

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Grads celebrated by sharing their photos through  photo templates and a photo booth. And they had a chance to give a virtual good luck nose rub to True Grit, our favorite four-legged friend, complete with confetti. 

During the ceremony, President Hrabowski addressed the graduates saying, “What I challenge you to think about is two things. Number one, how can you give hope to others around you? And number two, to envision yourselves 50 years from now, and know that you will be ready to say, ‘What did I do during that time of trial? I did my best.’ And that’s all we can ask, that you do your best.” 

Gaining confidence, making connections

What will students take away from their time at UMBC? For Raquel Hamner, visual arts, it’s the bonds she made. 

“My favorite memory is one of my first memories of UMBC, during the transfer student trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore two years ago,” says Hamner. “I’d always loved the aquarium, so I figured even if I didn’t make any friends I’d still enjoy myself, but I never would have expected making some of the best friends in my life.” 

Hamner sightsees in Washington, D.C. with friends met through Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS) in spring 2019. Photo courtesy of Hamner.

For Maya Isabella Peiris Scheirer, global studies, “UMBC allowed me to stop worrying about what I ‘should’ be doing. Being a Retriever gave me the confidence to know that what I ‘should’ be doing is being myself.”

This December, UMBC also celebrated the achievements of the university’s first Translational Life Science Technology (TLST) graduates. Titina Sirak ’20, TLST, graduated with several job offers for biotech positions, having completed multiple internships. “From those experiences, I got my foot in the door,” she says.

Co-curriculars are often as much of a part of the college experience as academics are. To those looking to join the UMBC community, Fikir Ejigineh, information systems, shares, “I’ve had a great UMBC experience because of what I’ve made out of it. I would never be where I am now if I hadn’t gotten involved.”

Unique journeys

For many graduates, the journey to commencement isn’t a straight line. Christopher Lee, psychology, started his academic career over a decade ago, and returned to UMBC this semester to complete his final coursework, as more UMBC courses were made available online due to COVID-19. 

“Having been a working professional for seven years at this point, I’ve spent more time in the ‘real world’ than in undergrad,” he says. “I understand how the world works in a deeper, more nuanced way. My experiences inform my perspectives on the topics we discussed in class, and I’m better equipped to articulate them now.”

Reflecting on returning to complete his degree, he shared, “At first, I believed I would feel like it was a stigma, since it felt like an achievement I should’ve completed years ago. Thankfully, I got over that, and focused on the fact that my journey is uniquely my own.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created particular challenges for UMBC artists, who could no longer access traditional opportunities for collaboration and performance. For Pramuk Mohanlal-Vargas ’20, music and global studies, it was a time for introspection and reflection.

 “It’s kind of a strange feeling — all virtual, not performing in front of a live audience. That’s what’s made it challenging,” he says. “But it’s also helped me become more grounded, be more still in the moment.”

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A time to remember

This year’s graduate ceremony was an especially poignant one for the class of 2020. Shortly before the ceremony, the campus was notified of the passing of Alex Rittle, president of the Graduate Student Association . 

Rittle had the opportunity to address the graduates in a prerecorded video, which was played during the ceremony. Known for his thoughtfulness and empathy, he closed his speech with a charge to his classmates to “love and care for one another like your life depends on it.”  


Graduates and those cheering them on can share memories, well wishes, and photos through #UMBCgrad, and view UMBC’s Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter accounts for coverage of the ceremonies. Videos with captioning from both ceremonies can be found on UMBC’s YouTube page.

Header image: Celebratory Commencement box. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11.

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