Nobody expected 2020 to throw everyone a curve ball. UMSL Optometry was planning graduation and a celebration in August for the college’s 40th anniversary. Unfortunately, due to a deadly virus, schools, businesses, universities and cities shut down. UMSL was halfway through the spring semester when the campus shutdown began. Our students began asking themselves, “What next?” 

Fast forward to May. Graduation has been postponed, but not forgotten. The college still wanted to celebrate our recent graduates. In a matter of a month, the Student Services department was able to put together a video and virtual awards ceremony to honor and congratulate the newest group of optometrists.  

Class of 2020 representative, Madison Moss, who is now the Cornea and Contact Lens resident at UMSL, commented, “Replacing an in-person ceremony with a virtual one is a large task, but our online awards ceremony was special in a brand-new way. I felt proud to graduate from a school that would create something so meaningful for us. The memories video and awards ceremony were executed thoughtfully, and the event as a whole flowed nicely.”

The day, even though it was in a virtual setting on Zoom, presented many emotions for the class, including Moss. “It was an emotional day for many reasons; I felt proud of myself and my classmates for making it to that point, but I also felt disappointed that we could not all be together to celebrate. Seeing everyone’s smiling face on my computer screen made the day so much better!”  The smiling faces of the Class of 2020 were proof that while the circumstances were not the best, the sendoff for them made things a little better.    

Despite the imperfect conditions, our virtual awards day was absolutely wonderful. Aric Waltz, another graduate, had his favorite moments of the day as well. “I enjoyed the part where pictures were shown over the past four years displaying our UMSL experience. This was great to relive some memories. Nick had some great words to say that were very heartfelt and made the virtual ceremony feel sincere and almost in person.”  Moss echoed Waltz’s comments: “My favorite part of the virtual awards ceremony was having the opportunity to present Dr. Sweeney with the Outstanding Educator of the Year award. She has meant so much to our class, and we adore her! It was an honor to be a part of the ceremony in that way.”  Sydni Davis Farhat shared her favorite part, which was at the very end when most of the audience had left and it was just the class for a few precious minutes. “We have developed a bond that will last a lifetime, and that time together at the end of a wonderful ceremony solidified that bond as we said goodbye. It was not a substitution for a graduation ceremony by any means, it wasn’t intended to be, but it stands on its own as an experience that I will treasure forever,” Davis Farhat commented.

The production and development of the project included a team of people led by Nick Palisch, Director of Student and Alumni Services. “I wanted to make sure that we captured memories and showed them that we were proud of the accomplishments, despite the inability to do it in person,” commented Palisch. In the weeks leading up to the virtual sendoff, students were able to catch themselves on the college’s social media pages, where three students were featured each day. The culmination of the video included the class slides, memories, milestones, and well-wishes from over 100 individuals. “Without the help of Ryan Molitor, Janice White, Gabriella Watson, and Sami Butcher, we would not have been able to pull off this remarkable sendoff for the Class of 2020,” Palisch concluded.  

Waltz, who accepted a position in the St. Charles, Missouri area, said that it made him feel accomplished and that he enjoyed seeing his achievements and those of his classmates. “Everything went well and I know my family really enjoyed it!  UMSL Optometry and Nick [Palisch] really outdid themselves,” commented Waltz.  Davis Farhat echoed those sentiments. “I was honored that Nick Palisch and so many fabulous staff members spent hours putting it together in order to give my class a treasured event to commemorate our hard work.”  Moss also agreed. “I am so proud of my class, and I am so grateful to all of the hardworking UMSL folks who made this event happen for us. It truly was so special, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed.”

 Many members of the class dressed for the occasion on camera, formally celebrating a final moment together as the Class of 2020.  Davis Farhat commented, “It gave us an opportunity to commune with one another once again before we go our separate ways, which was special since not everyone can return for the graduation ceremony. The ceremony provided the gateway that a graduation normally provides to step out of school and into the profession.”  The ceremony also provided emotions for the class—times of smiles, laughs, and even a few tears. “I shed some tears of pride as my highly esteemed classmates accepted much-deserved awards, and I truly enjoyed getting to share this with family and friends across the country. It was a special experience that I hope is unique to our class. It gave me something to look forward to despite the disappointing cancellations of our senior seminar week and the end of our clinical experience. It gave me a reason to dress up and smile. I had a mix of emotions throughout, predominantly pride and happiness,” recalled Davis Farhat. 

On May 15, 2020, 46 members of the Class of 2020 became optometrists. We look forward to sharing in the celebration for the September commencement ceremonies!  

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