Civil Engineering Department Honors Grads with Virtual Commencement

There was a processional, complete with "Pomp and Circumstance." There was a keynote speaker. And, there were cheers from family members as graduates' names were called.

The only thing different about the 2020 commencement in the Department of Civil Engineering was that, for the first time in history, it was hosted totally virtually to keep participants safe in the era of COVID-19.

Rod Williams, clinical assistant professor of civil engineering, stood in for the ceremony's normal national anthem performer.

More than 120 participants took part in the virtual ceremony, during which graduates heard from Engineering Dean John English and departmental faculty members, as well as a keynote address from 1989 civil engineering alumnus Brock Hoskins, who is now the President and CEO of Garver.

Hoskins shared his personal journey through a civil engineering career with graduates, as well as encouraging them to look for the opportunities in the midst of the pandemic.

"For the first time in 100 years, you are the people completing a college journey in the midst of a global pandemic," said Hoskins. "So, use that to your advantage in whatever lies ahead. Your resiliency will help define you as a person … and in your professional careers."

Graduates also heard from Julia Loshelder, the department's E. Walt LeFevre Outstanding Senior, who urged her peers to remember their time in college fondly and to look for ways to improve the world through civil engineering.

"If your dream was to finish college and get that diploma, this certifies that, yes, you have received that bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree. And I hope you have begn to formulate another dream," she said.

"As we move on with our lives, keep on dreaming. Figure out how you can truly impact the civil engineering profession, either through physical projects or through mentoring the next generation of students. Civil engineering truly is a worthwhile profession. The results of our work can be seen all over the world. Remind yourself of that when the workdays get long."

Sarah Hernandez, assistant professor of civil engineering, helped organize the event, and said faculty members felt strong it was important to recognize the Class of 2020.

"An event like graduation is the final culmination of years of hard work," she said. "It's a ceremony for students to feel proud of becoming engineers and for families to share in their accomplishments.  We as faculty want students to know that the struggles through classes are worth it at the end and didn't want them to miss out on the feeling of success that is evident at a graduation ceremony."

Hernandez said the event was also meaningful for faculty members.

"As faculty, graduation is also a signal of our work to educate future engineers. We needed a way to mark the close to our year and without graduation we felt something was missing," she said. "It was wonderful to hear so many families cheer on their graduates. Families joined us from all over the world and across many time zones.  

"Hearing the student speaker comment on what it means to graduate and become and engineer made me tear up in remembering the day I graduated. Lastly, working with my friends and colleagues to put the event together was a good reminder of the great place we work- the department of civil engineering at the U of A is truly a special place."

And yes, there were all the technical difficulties of a 100-plus person video call. People forgot to mute their microphones. The recording got a little off track. And none of it mattered to the graduating student Drew Lowry.

"The celebration was perfect," he said. "Even better than that, it was perfectly imperfect.  It made me laugh and smile, and was as meaningful to me as any event could have been. It was a class act. I will never forget it."

A recording of the live stream is available here:



Mike Emery, media specialist
Civil Engineering

Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering


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