For many first-generation students at UNC, the loss of walking the stage at graduation due to COVID-19 is especially poignant.
That's why the UNC First-Generation Student Association is organizing a virtual graduation ceremony specifically for first-generation graduates and their families in the classes of 2020 and 2021.
The FGSA ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 15. The goal of the event is to recognize students for their accomplishments — especially in the face of the pandemic. This will be in addition to the University commencement ceremonies, which students will have the option to attend in person.
Melanie Krug, president of FGSA and a first-generation senior, emphasized the importance of first-generation students being able to share graduation with friends and family.
“This ceremony is not limited to students and welcomes friends and family because we know that graduating is a big deal for first-generation communities and their families, and we want to make sure there is no person limit,” Krug said. “We know that this milestone is not only about you but also about all the sacrifices they made with you.”
The event will begin with speeches from FGSA leaders, University Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and a to-be-determined guest speaker.
Guskiewicz said he is looking forward to acknowledging these students for their remarkable achievements.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the First-Generation Student Association’s virtual graduation ceremony in May," Guskiewicz said in a statement. “These exceptional students have overcome extraordinary challenges to become the first person in their family to graduate from college and enrich our campus with their perseverance and determination.”
All UNC graduates in attendance will have their names and majors read individually so that every student’s hard work is recognized, Krug said.
At the end of the event, all the students will open a personalized graduation package together. The package will be sent to them by FGSA prior to the ceremony and will contain memorabilia to commemorate the event.
Lissie Rivera, senior director of marketing for FGSA, said the marketing team has been working carefully on designing the care packages.
“We have been working hard on merch design because we are hoping to send every graduate a care package," Rivera said. "We just want them to have something to remember Carolina by on this very special day."
This event is also meant to help strengthen a sense of community among first-generation graduates at UNC. Vice President George Kostantinis said FGSA is actively trying to identify the first-generation community and make it more prominent for UNC students.
The community feels pride in each others’ accomplishments, he said.
“You did this, you should be immensely proud of yourself and the whole first generation is proud of you too,” Kostantinis said.
So far, the interest form for the event has 160 people signed up — not including friends and family.
Students are still welcome to sign up using the interest form before March 19.
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