Chancellor May at a graduation ceremony in cap and gown handing a diploma to a new graduate.

CHANCELL-ING: Here's to the Graduates

Let’s honor this moment with a big round of congratulations to the Class of 2020, a group that will go down in history.

That includes the graduating seniors from Davis High School, our UC Davis graduates, and even the city’s elementary school students with their “promotion ceremonies” to the next grade.

All of them reached their graduation milestones during some of the most tumultuous times our country has ever seen. We’ve endured more than three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, more than a week of protests since the tragic death of George Floyd.

Our graduating students deserve our full support. Their talent and resiliency give us hope that the future is in good hands.

These bright students had to pivot quickly to remote learning as shelter-in-place orders were issued in Yolo County. The following weeks weren’t easy, as the ability to visit friends and participate in sports and other activities were mostly put on hold. Yet, they pressed on — all the way to graduation day.

Let’s thank the educators, many of whom went above and beyond to learn new ways of teaching and kept their students connected in creative ways.

All the parents and guardians deserve plenty of appreciation, too. So many of you juggled busy work lives while simultaneously making sure these students were being educated and entertained at home. It’s been a lot to ask of everyone, but we pulled through.

The traditional June graduation season looks much different as large gatherings must wait for another time. At UC Davis, we’ve transitioned to virtual commencements — though we’re hopeful that we can host an in-person ceremony for undergraduates later this year.

I understand the disappointment of our graduates. That includes my youngest daughter, a member of the Class of 2020 whose own college graduation ceremony was postponed indefinitely. For years, our graduates have looked forward to commemorating their achievements with a walk across the stage and “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background. It’s hard for the family and friends who have dreamt of this day as well.

Despite the disappointments, I’ve also been reminded of something during this time. We’re lucky to live in a city that shows so much heart.

You could feel this last week, as blue and white balloons were placed around town to celebrate Davis High School graduates. Signs to congratulate these students were hung in the windows of businesses and placed on lawns. Cars honked as graduation parades wound through Davis streets. One house even left free Hawaiian leis for any graduate to take.

We will continue to face challenges in the days and years ahead. But as Maya Angelou once said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

So, to our university and high school graduates, I encourage you to move forward with courage. It might seem like the world’s been turned upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic has us feeling isolated and anxious. Our communities are in pain over social injustices. I hope you always show the kind of strength and determination that brought you to this day.

To the younger graduates, I encourage you to keep exploring and asking questions. Learn all you can about the things that both fascinate and concern you. Don’t forget that you’re surrounded by a community that’s rooting for you every step of the way, from the playground to your final graduation stage one day.

I wish everyone peace and good health during this historic graduation season. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!