The Class of 2020 will always hold a unique space in the history of New College and U of T. This group of students ended their undergraduate college years under circumstances that no previous graduating class has ever had to contend with. Finding ways to properly celebrate these new alumni while in the midst of a pandemic was a challenge for New College’s Advancement team. While the Class of 2020’s degrees were officially conferred at the university-wide virtual ceremony, New College Associate Director, Advancement Catherine Argiropoulos and Alumni Development Officer Brenda Registe wanted to ensure that NEW students also felt celebrated by the College that had been their home during their undergraduate years.
Registe, who has been with New College for close to 20 years, recognizes how unprecedented this situation is. “In my role as ADO, I have wonderful opportunities to connect with students and observe the work they do in preparing for life after graduation. Their convocation ceremony marks that transition. And for the first time in the history of the college, we faced the reality, due to COVID-19 that there will not be convocation ceremonies across the University, based on Public Health advice”.
While the challenge this presented was daunting, the Advancement team was ready and willing to take it on. According to Registe, “We knew immediately, that while there was little we could do about this deep disappointment, we began to think creatively about how to celebrate our Class of 2020. We believed that hosting events focused on career development, especially in a post COVID-19 environment, would be among the many ways we could engage with our newest alumni.”
On June 2nd, as students celebrated U of T’s virtual convocation with friends and family, New College Principal Bonnie McElhinny sent a heartfelt message to graduating students.
“[The Class of 2020 is] graduating, today, in an unprecedented way. We will get through this moment, but we will also think through this moment. Think about what we need to do differently, what we need to look at, a-new. You will be a critical part of that public conversation. We will need all of you—the artists, the entrepreneurs, the social scientists, the scientists. We are lucky to have all of you. The New College quad is a curve—because, one student told me, we think outside the box here. It was inspired by a river. It flows. We are proud, so proud, of you today.”
You can read Principal McElhinny’s full statement here.
Before the cancellation of on-campus events, New College was to hold the college’s Convocation ceremony on June 11th. For the Alumni Office, this special day presented another opportunity to celebrate our newest group of young alumni. College leaders including Principal McElhinny, Registrar Kerri Huffman, Dean of Students Leah McCormack-Smith, and Alumni Ambassador Vidia Dhanraj recorded special messages to students, congratulating them on this momentous accomplishment. To further commemorate this special day, New Resonance, the New College acapella group, put a great deal of time and effort into creating a special virtual performance of Graduation by Vitamin C. All these messages of congratulations and the New Resonance performance can be seen here.
While the Convocation ceremony is an incredibly important moment of recognition, New College also puts a great deal of emphasis on offering students support and guidance as they move into the next phase of their academic or professional careers. Mentorship plays a central role in the ethos of New College, and Argiropoulos and Registe wanted to make sure that the Class of 2020 benefited from the same type of experiences as past graduating classes. So, on the evening of June 11th, they debuted the first-ever virtual edition of Dinner@New, our highly successful dinner series which invites NEW students and alumni to share a meal while discussing career choices, professional paths, and real-life experiences. This special edition came with a twist, as three New alumni – Rajan Bansi (New ’98), Maja Dettbarn (New ’75), and Lesley Riedstra (New ’95) – joined new graduates on a Zoom call, complete with dinner supplied to all by the College through Skip the Dishes gift cards. The evening was an uplifting success and resulted in further opportunities for the new graduates to connect with the featured alumni for advice and guidance.
As students move into a world that is more virtually based than ever before, NEW wanted the Class of 2020 to get solid advice on how to build an online profile that will stand out from the virtual crowd. For this, Argiropoulos and Registe enlisted the help of NEW alum Samantha Yammine. Yammine, also known as @ScienceSam, is a neuroscientist, Science Communicator, and Founder of Science Sam Media. Yammine joined a group of students from the 2020 graduating class for a virtual career planning discussion. Moderated by fourth year New College student Jasmine Mclaughlin-Morgan, the session covered everything from the evolution of Dr. Yammine’s career, how she built her successful profile as a popular science communicator, and how young alumni can build social networks. Yammine, who is also currently hosting a U of T COVID-centred podcast called “3Qs at the U with Science Sam”, generously shared her experience, knowledge, and tips, and inspired a new group of alumni to believe that they can create their own path!
While these virtual events do not replace in-person celebrations, Associate Director Argiropoulos felt it was important for the College to do as much as possible to recognize and celebrate the Class of 2020. “This graduating class, which includes just over 900 students, are the newest members of our alumni community and we wanted to welcome them into our alumni community in a way that they would remember”, she says. “The videos from our College leaders shared motivating words to inspire our graduates and hosting a virtual Dinner@New and career planning webinar with Dr. Yammine provided tangible career advice with opportunities to grow their professional networks. We are so proud of the Class of 2020 for overcoming the challenges this time has posed.”
The NEW community will forever remember this special graduating class. Their resilience and ability to adapt is a testimony to their dedication and spirit. So once again, congratulations, Class of 2020. You will forever have a special place in our hearts and in our history. New College could not be prouder!