Stanford Hosts Bay Area’s First Full In-Person Back-to-School Year Since Pandemic Begins

Louise Kingston’s proudest moment as a parent came at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday when she saw her son George walk into Stanford Stadium in a full-length banana suit with his head sticking out the skin behind green reflective ski goggles .

The ‘Wacky Walk’ was underway, which meant that George and 1,249 other members of the 2021 class graduated live, in person, with all the pomp and circumstance, speech and searing heat that the occasion entails. .

“It means everyone to me. To say I’m happy is an understatement, ”said Kingston, who had arrived from Park City, Utah, and was dressed more dignified than her son, in a Cardinal red cocktail dress.

“Human beings need to have social interactions,” she said. “I see these other parents and I just want to celebrate with them.”

Stanford, which traditionally hosts the last graduation ceremony of the season among Bay Area colleges and universities, was the first this year. Plus, it was the only one to have a live graduation ceremony with all of the undergraduates sitting in one place at once.

Due to the pandemic, in 2020 all graduation ceremonies in the region were virtual, including that of Stanford. This year, some have remained virtual, including those at San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. Some were hybrids, including those at San Jose State University and UC Berkeley, which held a virtual graduation ceremony on May 15, followed by four days of graduation at the Greek Theater. Out of 15,000 graduates, 6,000 registered to don their caps, gowns and accessories and cross the stage in groups of 30 every 10 minutes. It took 28 hours spread over four days to welcome everyone.

UC Santa Cruz hosted a virtual launch that went live on Friday at noon. Plus, a “Slug Crossing” weekend – so named after the college’s banana slug mascot – saw graduates walk through a stage and collect their diplomas. Each of the 3,500 Graduate Slugs who participated were allowed to bring two guests, provided they all arrived in the same car.

Saint Mary’s hosted a three-day “Carmencement” in Moraga and Mills College in Oakland was completely virtual.

The closest litter to Stanford’s start was at the University of Santa Clara. On Friday, 1,228 of its 1,468 enrolled undergraduates donned gowns, mortars and face masks for a mile-long walk around campus to collect their degrees. The actual launch took place practically on Saturday.

It was the 130th graduation ceremony at Stanford, and it took some compromises to get there. The graduate and undergraduate programs, which normally march en masse through the stadium, were split into two ceremonies on Saturday. Departmental ceremonies, which normally take place on campus after the main start, were virtual.

The graduates were spaced 6 feet apart and spread over 60 yards of the football field. They were limited to two guests each, which means that less than 3,000 people populate the 40,000-seat stadium.

Everyone, graduates and parents, had to present proof of vaccination and go through a health screening station in the parking lot. But no one complained.

“I cried with happiness when I heard the graduation ceremony was live, not virtual,” said Leen Dawany, who had come from Jensen Beach, Fla., To watch her son Saris graduate. “I’m more excited than him,” Dawany said. “I just hope my son isn’t wearing a crazy costume.”

Like almost everything else, the Wacky Walk – an irreverent costumed walk that precedes the opening walk – has been moderate this year. The outfits were sober. Eight Stanford Daily staff wore custom cardboard cover pages with their heads sticking out of the fold. “We have a group of eight people,” explained Julia Gong, the cartoon editor, “and it’s like,“ How many Stanford students does it take to understand how Wacky Walk works? “”

Family members still come from all over the world for graduation. Among the many twists and turns this year is the fact that their graduating children have flown in to graduate from the same places their parents did. Gong and his parents were from Cary, NC

“I have friends at Harvard and MIT, and they were all virtual, so I’m grateful we were able to fly away,” Gong said.

Most of the graduates had not been to the stadium since the 2019 football season, and they were excited to walk down the student ramp. Four friends were so excited that they arrived at 6 a.m. to be on the front line. First came the color guard, then came the four seniors, each dressed as a glass of beer, to advertise Barillaga, the campus pub.

“Being able to celebrate together after being apart for so long is just amazing,” said Andre Turati, who came from Houston to put his pint glass down. His parents were good sportsmen about it. “They laughed at first,” he said.

Everyone inside the stadium was required to wear masks, a constant reminder that the pandemic is still here. The speeches were also a reminder. The rector of the University Marc Tessier-Lavigne first approached it by mentioning how it was a “difficult year”. Keynote speaker Issa Rae, a 2007 graduate and now actor, screenwriter and producer, made the point.

“I can’t imagine having the strength to finish my degree when the world is falling apart all around you,” she said. “But it looks like you did.”

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: swhiting@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @samwhitingsf


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