Virtual Commencement Something to Celebrate | Thomas Nelson Community College

Virtual Commencement Something to Celebrate

May 15, 2020
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Thomas Nelson’s first virtual commencement ceremony took place May 14, and if the numbers are any indication, it was an overwhelming success.

Within 24 hours of the end of commencement, the ceremony video had been viewed more than 1,00 times. Each of the three videos where student names were read and messages were displayed had been viewed more than 400 times. The 15-minute pre-ceremony video had been viewed nearly 900 times.

According to Alicia Riley, the College’s Special Events Coordinator, the average number of students walking in the past five years is about 350. That does not count last year because 2019 was the largest graduation class as well as the school’s 50th anniversary class. For this year’s slide show, more than 230 students submitted a photo or message. Nearly 500 people were viewing the video when it became available at 10 a.m. last Thursday. And the commencement speakers weren’t the only global component. Live comments on social media were posted from people as far away as the Philippines.

"The most pertinent attribute was being able to hear the voices of our students via their degree/certificate achievement slides and blogging/vlogging during the live ceremony," Riley said.

“I was never so proud to be part of such a glorious ceremony,” said Thomas Nelson Interim President Dr. Gregory DeCinque, who has been a community college president for 25 years and has presided over 42 commencement ceremonies. “Thanks to our planners, our faculty and staff, our board members and all those who made today possible.”

As with colleges, administrators and students across the world, it was their first virtual commencement, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, it was noted repeatedly in commencement addresses, that didn’t stop the members of Thomas Nelson’s Class of 2020 from reaching their goals.

“I was so proud of this class as they faced a serious challenge in getting to this day,” DeCinque said. “The COVID-19 pandemic made their last semester a real test of motivation and resiliency as we moved all instruction on line. They rose to the challenge and today they crossed the finish line.”

Dr. Susan English, vice president of Academic Affairs and Workforce Development, agreed.

“The 51st Thomas Nelson Commencement exercises were as special as the students it celebrated,” she said. “Our graduates are true examples of resilience, strength, and grit. We are honored that each one chose Thomas Nelson to help meet their educational goals.”

Several academic honors were revealed during the ceremony. Katherine Nicole Hammer was awarded the John F. Coote Memorial Award for Excellence in Accounting; Patricia Ann Jackson and Cadence Xavier Donlon Soyka were the Hastings Award winners. The President's Award winner (Justin Wolf) and the Vice President's Award winner (Nicole Johnstin) had been previously announced. Members of the Phi Theta Kappa All-Virginia Academic team were Heather Andersen, Shirley Archer, Debra Godette, Oskar O'Neal and Milagros Portocarreron. 

Another first for the ceremony was instead of one commencement address, there were six video messages from speakers across the globe, including Mexico and Australia.

The speakers were:

Tony Brothers: Founder of Men for Hope, Inc., and a longtime referee in the National Basketball Association from Norfolk.

Bron Hansboro: An award-winning floral and event designer based in Richmond. He travels the world plying his trade and teaching online courses. He’s also a former high school principal.

Fawn Miller: She’s a “chill-preneur” living on a beach, doing everything by cell phone and computer. She lives in Mexico.

Rosetta Qadhi: An author and successful businesswoman with companies in Canada and the Caribbean.

Jennifer Trethewey: An author and successful businesswoman from Australia.

Kimberly “Queen Kimmie” Tyson: She’s a U.S. Army veteran, an entrepreneur and CEO of “Scatterbrain Kingdom Enterprises” and “Queen Kimmie 101 Coaching and Courses.”

Their addresses ranged from holding yourself accountable and having no fear, to take things upon yourself, to enjoy the moment, to be who you want to be, to don’t be afraid to take the lead, to be true and honest with yourself. The videos ranged from 4 ½ minutes to a little more than 12, and they had been viewed nearly 600 times in the first 24 hours. Viewers had the option to watch whichever speaker, including all six, appealed to them.

"The commencement speakers were ideal for this online platform," Riley said. "The world is working in a global realm, and Thomas Nelson was able to showcase our connection with global supporters."

The entire ceremony, including the reading of all the graduates and watching all six speaker videos, lasted about 90 minutes. The videos will continue to be available online at and YouTube.

Riley is hoping to have some of the components of this yea'rs virtual ceremony in future in-person ones.

The celebration continued the next day with an online Grad Bash. The two-hour "party" began at 7 p.m. featuring students sharing pictures of themselves donning their regalia and music by a local DJ taking  requests.

The move to online classes and battling a worldwide health crisis forced students, faculty and staff to make adjustments and create new ways to learn. Those are all traits that will be especially helpful to the new graduates in the coming years.