Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences celebrated the Classes of 2020 and 2021 in an extended weekend of pomp and circumstance that recognized their resilience and gave recent grads a chance to participate in beloved traditions missed during the pandemic.
“We didn’t get the closure that we wanted, and I lacked it for both of my graduations,” said Alya Bukhari, who received an undergraduate degree in 2020 from the School of Arts and Sciences and a degree from the Graduate School of Education in 2021. “This was a moment to get that closure. For me, Rutgers was meeting the most important people and having them, along with my friends and family, support me. It was all worth it.”
The celebration began early Thursday with a formal hooding ceremony for doctoral graduates at the Rutgers Athletic Center and concluded late Sunday afternoon upon the Lawn at Wood Lawn Mansion with the School of Engineering. At events across campus – Nicholas Music Center, Livingston Lawn, and the Honors College Rodkin Family Courtyard – graduates crossed stages and mortarboards were tossed to sounds of applause.
“I just want to congratulate you, not just for all that you accomplished during your Rutgers education, but for what you navigated to get to this place in time,” President Jonathan Holloway said at the Old Queens welcome reception that included ringing of the Red Lion Bell and breaking of clay pipes upon the Class of 1877 cannon. “In a place that is committed to innovation, to breaking traditions in the form of new ideas, we pay respect to some of our most hallowed traditions.”
For many graduates, the celebration marked their first return to campus since the start of the pandemic, when most students were sent home and classes shifted online. To accommodate its newest alums, the Rutgers University Alumni Association hosted open houses for all returnees and their families throughout the weekend at The Alumni House at Van Nest Hall.
“It’s great seeing the students back and people walking around campus,” said Andrew Rears, a 2020 graduate of the School of Arts and Sciences. It feels like Rutgers is alive and well. I had celebrations with my family but experiencing the big events with my classmates was really nice.”
Lina Maria Alfonso, a May 2020 master’s of health administration graduate from the Bloustein School of Public Planning and Policy, agrees.
Alfonso, who delivered the graduation remarks to 2020 and 2021 graduates and their families during the school’s in-person celebration on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, says that she was fortunate enough to experience a big Rutgers graduation celebration when she received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences – but her final year of graduate studies at Bloustein was suddenly interrupted by a global pandemic.
“We transitioned quickly to online learning, and graduating virtually is definitely something we did not expect. I needed a bit of closure,” Alfonso said. “Being able to come here and see faculty and students that we had not seen for a year and a half is very rewarding, and I am honored to have been selected to represent and speak to the Bloustein students.”
In the celebration’s marquee event on Saturday evening at SHI Stadium, hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg performed before an enthusiastic crowd comprised of 2020 and 2021 graduates and current university students. The recent alums received priority registration and were welcome to bring a guest to the free event, which was funded by the money designated for in-person commencement ceremonies over the past two springs.
Dressed in a knit Rutgers cap and Rutgers sweatshirt, the artist who has sold over 37 million albums worldwide, delivered on his promise that “It’s going to be a party to remember, and the energy is going to be off the hook.” In addition to releasing his new record Algorithm, Snoop Dogg performed several of his Billboard top ten hits, including No. 1 singles Drop It Like It’s Hot and Young, Wild & Free.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive from the crowd of recent alumni who were grateful for the chance to celebrate their achievement on campus.
“It was a great concert that brought everyone back together,” said Scott Scherer, a 2020 graduate of Rutgers Business School. “Rutgers didn’t forget about us, and that means a lot.”