Proud moment: Duke class of 2020 celebrates long-awaited in-person commencement

Posted September 24, 2021 10:37 a.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2021 7:04 p.m. EDT

— Denied a traditional graduation ceremony and celebration during the pandemic, Duke University's class of 2020 finally marched proudly to Pomp and Circumstance on Sunday morning for their long-awaited in-person commencement.

Smiles, waves and cell phone videos could be seen as the class of graduates finally had their moment. After overcoming a year of uncertainty and unexpected challenges, the moment was well-deserved.

After a virtual celebration last year, Duke graduates waited 16 months to gather in-person with loved ones, to reconnect with classmates and to celebrate their accomplishments.

“Commencement doesn't just signify degree completion; the ceremony binds us to the institution and the legions of alumni who preceded us,” said Gary Bennett, Duke’s vice provost for undergraduate education. “If anyone deserves to participate in this tradition, it's the Class of 2020 whose lives, studies, and Duke experiences were so profoundly interrupted."

Actor, comedian and physician Ken Jeong, who graduated from Duke in 1990, delivered the commencement address.

After graduating from Duke, Jeong attended medical school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He worked as a physician for several years before achieving fame in TV and movies like The Hangover, The Office and The Masked Singer, and many other popular roles. He's also a doctor.

"Class of 2020, Doctor Ken has come back home," Jeong told graduates on Sunday.

While there were funny moments during Jeong's speech, there were also heartwarming ones too.

"From the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry. Looking at each one of you right now, and just saying, from me to you, the class of 2020, whatever you need -- I'm always here for you," he said.

Jeong is one of four distinguished individuals who received an honorary degree during the celebration.

Around 1,750 students and more than 5,000 of their friends and family members attended the ceremony.

"It's kind of surreal to be here," said one Duke graduate. "It's been a long time coming. I didn't know if we'd make it to this day, but I'm happy we're here."

"After a year had passed, I said that it's not going to happen, so I'm very grateful for this day, for sure," said graduate Cynthia Shyirahayo.

Duke graduate Ricky Kendall said he remembered attending Duke's virtual graduation in May of 2020 and receiving his diploma via a PDF. Kendall said Sunday's ceremony was much appreciated.

"I think this was that closure that we all needed. We're all back and we're seeing our friends and seeing those that we want to say those goodbyes and maybe see you laters to," he said.

Face masks were required on campus, and all attendees were expected to be vaccinated.

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